Sunday, May 9, 2021

The Beauty of Tradition

For several years now, I’ve made a point to publish a book for Mother’s Day. This isn’t to say I didn’t get Mom something for Mother’s Day, don’t think I’m that kind of guy :) I always did my best to get her something she’d enjoy, though the book promise was for her as well as for me. Mom is someone that shall always be an important light shining in my life. Before she did it keeping us company in physical form, and now she shines from above as from within all of those who love her.
  

It’s easy to miss someone you love, especially someone that was such a basic component of my day-to-day. When she was alive, I would call her in the morning and in the afternoon and sometimes for lunch. We kept each other updated of what was going on and to me it was a pleasure, never a burden. Some people resent “having to call” a family member. Granted, not everyone has the easiest relationship, which goes to show how blessed I was and am. Not calling her felt as if something was missing in my day and it took a Category 5 hurricane for us not to be in touch for a couple of days. 

 

That’s what I wish for you. Not the hurricane tearing down communications anywhere, but the ease with which I found it to keep in touch with Mom. Before taking off on a flight I would call and say I love you. When I arrived, I would call to let her know we’d touched down safe and the same with a lot of important people in my life. While driving to work, I would always talk to her and see what was up and we both knew each other well enough to know when something was up and we were silly enough not to say it in the first place. 

 

I feel her often and miss her just as much, and sure, it hurts. Of course it does. Still, I see how very fortunate I have been and continue to be. How many blessings come into my life and I can’t help but know she’s giving me a helping hand any way she can. When she passed, my brothers and I took turns sharing with the loved ones present what we felt for her and watch she meant and means to us. For me, I said that we had two options of being selfish. We could say that a part of us had died with her, or we could say that a part of her lived with us. I chose and shall always choose the second option.

 

For this Mother’s day, I chose to publish a poetry collection about happiness, joy, hope, and kindness be it for others or yourself. It’s an odd time we’re living and I wanted to do a small part in offering words to remind that it’s completely in us to seek out joy and happy moments, instead of anchoring onto worry, frustration, and despair. Things happen. Sometimes for a reason and sometimes just because. Other times, some things happen because we will them to happen. 

 

For today, I published a book, wrote Mom a letter telling her all about the latest adventure, and am writing this blog post. The Captain has also put some wine to chill to toast to her, because she always joins me in toasting to her and all our loved ones. It is our choice to do so, and also another lovely tradition we maintain. 

 

To everyone who has joined me in toasting to Mom. Thank you. 

 

To everyone who has picked up a copy of Ballads of Hope and Joy. Thank you.

 

To everyone who is celebrating their Mothers today. Thank you.

 

To all the Mothers who give their all for their children. Thank you.

 

To hope and joy, love and family, words that bring us together, and love that lives on. 

 

Peace, love, and maki rolls.




Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Otras en pandemia

Como a muchos, las palabras me han fallado los últimos días viendo una de las muchas cosas que se desatan en Puerto Rico. Por un lado, el sistema judicial le falló a otra mujer y a 35 años de edad, Andrea Ruiz Costas fue hallada muerta. Por otro lado, el asesinato de Keishla Marlen Rodríguez de 27 años que ha dominado los noticieros hace unos días. Dos mujeres que muy probable nunca se cruzaron el camino aunque serán a menudo citadas en el mismo párrafo o el mismo reportaje.

En enero se declaró un Estado De Emergencia Por Violencia De Género…pero más allá de declarar lo que muchos sabemos, ¿qué se ha hecho por ayudar a la situación? De seguro una pregunta que se hacen las familias de Andrea, de Keishla y de las decenas de mujeres que son asesinadas cada año en la isla y sabrá Dios cuántas otras mujeres que sufren de maltrato físico y emocional a manos de su pareja. 


Según la declaración, se establecieron medidas y si quieres conocerlas, aquí está la lista.

 

Pero siguen muriendo mujeres a manos de hombres.

 

Sigue la violencia de género hacia las mujeres y personas transgénero.

 

A menudo escribo en este blog para tratar de hacer sentido de lo que veo y vivo. El detalle es que al ser hombre, estoy limitado en lo que puedo comprender. Sé lo que es estar pendiente para que no me roben, pero no sé lo que es estar pendiente para que no me violen. Poder decir esa frase con tanta certeza me llena de miedo, ira y frustración. Desafortunadamente, vengo de una sociedad que cuando violan a una mujer, frecuentemente preguntan cosas como qué hacía ahíqué tenía puesto y cosas por el estilo. Cuando cambiamos el tema a la violencia doméstica, otra pregunta común es por qué se quedó con él. Todas preguntas repletas de prejuicio, misoginia y a favor del patriarcado, término que tan pronto se usa, mucha gente responde rodando los ojos e ignorando lo que alguien tiene que decir. Triste también lo fácil que consiguen una o varias maneras de que la discusión se lleve hasta que la culpa caiga en la víctima. 

 

No entiendo nada de ese comportamiento. Ni del abuso que se da ni de la insensatez y crueldad de la gente ante una víctima. De por qué la persona se queda en esa situación; algo que hasta que no conoces a alguien que haya estado en un círculo así, no puedes comenzar a entender. Aunque no sea de Puerto Rico, un caso de abuso y violencia doméstica que tiene muchísima cobertura es el de Tina Turner y lo menciono porque recientemente sacaron un documental de su vida. Estuvo con Ike Turner 16 años. En este tiempo fue abusada físicamente, psicológicamente, violada y torturada de una multitud de maneras. Si le preguntas a cualquier persona de las voces del rock y R&B más importante en los EE. UU., de seguro que la de ella figura entre las primeras 10 a lo mínimo. Vino de cosechar algodón y ser abandonada por sus dos padres a caer en un grupo musical que a principios, todo de maravilla. Incluso, Ike Turner comenzó siendo como un hermano y de ahí evolucionó su relación hasta que él dijo que son pareja y pues, él era el que mandaba. 16 años tardó hasta que un día ella dijo hasta aquí. Es una historia de superación por múltiples razones, una de ellas siendo que sobrevivió por tanto tiempo. Alrededor del mundo, miles de mujeres no tienen la misma suerte de poder romper el ciclo aunque sea eventualmente. 

 

El detalle es que ahí no para. No es sólo el abuso sino que tan pronto una historia así toca tu vida, te sigue hasta la muerte. Di el ejemplo de Tina Turner, ya que aún a sus 81 años de edad, si da una entrevista, el tema del abuso va a salir. También di el ejemplo de ella porque está muy bien documentado lo que pasó, lo que sobrevivió y que aún con todo el éxito del mundo, millones de discos vendidos y finalmente en una relación estable, feliz y de amor y respeto, le sigue ese fantasma. En el 2013 renunció a su ciudadanía de los EE. UU. y aunque podemos especular las razones de por qué hizo eso, es muy posible que aunque la distancia no lo sane todo, le baja el volumen y la frecuencia. 

 

Los casos de Andrea y Keishla duelen no sólo por lo que comparten y lo que las diferencia, sino porque claramente demuestran que la violencia de género no discrimina y que le puede pasar a cualquier persona. También duelen porque no son los únicos del año. Esto no es una situación de una clase más que la otra. Tampoco es una situación de una nacionalidad más que la otra. A nivel mundial, las mujeres se tienen que velar y proteger en lo personal, laboral y hasta gubernamental. Desafortunadamente, son cosas que me duelen, pero solamente por empatía porque no son cosas que tengo que enfrentar en lo personal. ¿Temo por la seguridad de mi esposa y mi familia? Por supuesto que sí. ¿Pero temer que me vaya a pasar lo que le podría pasar a una mujer? No. Más nunca porque no es lo mismo, ni se escribe igual, ni se experimenta igual…pero es real y es lo que se vive a diario y no veo cómo se puede pensar que es algo semejante a normal. 

 

Sé lo que es ofrecerme acompañar a una amiga a su carro y pedir que me llame cuando llegue a la casa. Sé lo que es ir en carro hasta que entren a su urbanización o hasta asegurarme que cierre el portón de la casa. Sé lo que es que me pidan salir a janguear, para que aunque sea haya un muchacho en el grupo. He vivido esto en los EE. UU. y en Puerto Rico y muchas veces he dicho presente. En parte porque es lo correcto y lo que aprendí y en parte porque en vez de lamentarme de algo que pudiese haber hecho, prefiero ser el que se preocupa de más.

 

Veo en las redes amigas de todas las edades, todos los colores y todas las clases poniendo su foto en blanco y negro con mensajes de ni una menosni una másno nací para ser asesinada y muchos otros mensajes. Me incomoda el que haya gente que diga, pues es que así están las cosas o peor aun ofrezcan un así son las cosas en intentos de normalizar lo que no es normal, nunca ha sido normal y nunca será normal. Veo estas fotos y oro por cada una porque no sean víctima de la pandemia de otras, porque al ser tantas, nos enfrentamos con la realidad de decir no que una más ha muerto, sino que otra…y otra…y otra.

 

Conste, uno de mis mayores temores es la indiferencia al ver tanta violencia porque nada de esto es normal. Pasará frecuente, pero eso no lo hace normal. Habrá pasado por mucho tiempo, pero esto tampoco lo hace normal. Tampoco podemos decir que es momento de actuar, porque ese momento lleva tiempo con nosotros, no es que acabe de llegar. Son muchos los años de violencia tolerada, aceptada, justificada y normalizada. También son muchas las mujeres que se les ha terminado echando la culpa por lo que le ha sucedido. 

 

Le pasa por…

 

Se lo buscó…

 

¿Qué esperaba que iba a pasar?

 

Hay una pandemia de violencia a nivel país y en realidad, a nivel mundial y lleva mucho más tiempo que desde el 2020. Aunque hace rato que era tiempo de erradicar esto, desafortunadamente continúa. Abajo estoy poniendo información de contacto para apoyo a mujeres que estén sufriendo violencia doméstica. Los escribí por si necesitan copiarlo para usar luego y porque desde su teléfono posiblemente lo pueden marcar con un clic. También puse estos porque son los que pude verificar en línea y si alguien tiene otro contacto y el pueblo donde está, en confianza envíamelo y lo incluyo. 

 

Casa Protegida Julia de Burgos (San Juan)

787-723-3500

 

Casa de Todos (Juncos)

787-734-3132

 

Hogar Ruth (Vega Alta)

787-883-1884

 

Hogar Nueva Mujer (Cayey)

787-263-6473

 

Proyecto Matria

787-489-0022

 

Siempre Vivas

787-390-3371

 

www.pazparalamujer.org

 

Aunque comparto estos enlaces con la esperanza de que ni tú ni nadie que conozcas tengan que usarlo, aquí están por si ayudan y hacen falta. Viendo los tiempos que vivimos, toca usar todos los recursos posibles en busca de seguridad. Si estás en una situación así, usa la mayor cantidad de recursos posibles. No te limites a uno porque es mejor sobre precaver que lamentar…o peor aún. Andrea solicitó ayuda del tribunal y le fallaron. Como ella hay muchas. Usa todo recurso y no te confíes con un remedio o solución. Toca velar por la seguridad de todos y estar ahí para los que podemos ayudar, porque uno nunca sabe la gran diferencia que una pequeña intervención puede hacer. 

 

Un fuerte abrazo

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Transactional relationships and other harsh truths

Some people are only happy to help someone as long as there is a return of investment. And just because that sounds harsh, doesn’t mean it’s not true. It’s the difference between genuinely supporting others and verifying checks and balances or what we could call…

Transactional relationships (n.): 
People who interact with others while always focusing on how they can benefit from this contact.

Does that sound rough? Maybe; but it’s pretty true and there are a couple of truths like this. For starters…some people will not care about you, your projects, or your dreams…let alone your success or your wellbeing. They will only want to know how you can help them out with their to-do list.

In plainer words, they’ll only be interested in you as long as you can benefit them.

Some might be interested in connections you have; others will only be focused on selling you a product or service. Emotionally speaking, some people will always welcome your presence when they need a shoulder to cry on but when you’re in a pinch or feeling down, they’re not nearly as accessible. That’s because them having to invest in you takes away from them - their time, their energy, and beyond.

It’s a shame, but it happens. When it comes to fellow authors, some people will gladly exchange 5-star reviews…which to me is neither normal or legitimate. I rate as I see fit and a pre-existing rating is not something I’m in favor of and will get anyone expediently filed on the unfollow list or just keep at a distance. I will always be honest with how I rate a book in regards to how I feel about it when I read it. I don’t expect anyone to give me a 5-star review because I’m a nice guy or retaliate if I have something to say about their work. I’ve gotten 3-star reviews that were spot on and I appreciate them. I’ve also gotten empty 5-star reviews and what I feel are unfair ratings, both good and bad.

But there are different examples. Some people don’t know any better and just ALWAYS lead with what they’re doing, what they need, and them being at the beginning, middle, and end of a conversation. I always try and make sure that I ask how people are doing and how things are with them and I will admit that I’m awful at asking for help or favors because it’s just uncomfortable for me for a variety of reasons, but that’s me.

So if you’re even in a situation where you kind of feel pressured to do X or Y thing or as if some people just want to use you for their benefit, then feel free to take an honest look and see if it’s worth your time to continue with that contact. Some people are still great even when they lead with all things them. But other people, not so much, and if last year taught us anything it’s that we should always strive to invest our time and energy in the best way possible.

Peace, love, and maki rolls.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

An Alma Mater for Everyone

Although I’m not a fan of the band Creed, I do recognize that the first album has some solid tracks I enjoy. Not only that, “How You Remind Me” by Nickelback is a good song and Chad Kroeger’s song from the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack is also enjoyable. 

 

To some people, they’d heartily disagree. For others, they’ll throw up a bit in their mouths, and for others still…

 

THIS

 

IS

 

HERESY

 

Yet if the school of life has taught me anything, it’s that it’s always best to enjoy what you like and leave naysayers to their own devices. In other words, #YouDoYou.

 

For the longest time, I’ve always focused on what I enjoy, what makes me happy, and the things that motivate me. It’s been years since I was dismissive of someone’s taste in literature, videogames, movies, food, and music, and I always do my absolute best to recognize that MY opinion is subjective and need not apply to anyone else and that this goes both ways. In fact, I always invite people to try things for themselves and not be dissuaded by one opinion, even if it's mine.

 

Case in point, The Fountain movie. Directed by Darren Aronofsky, and starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, this movie is amazing for me, yet critics didn’t care much for it. Led Zeppelin 3 is a polarizing album in their discography, and while some people think it’s a misfire, it is my favorite Zeppelin album. Some people love a frequented Mexican restaurant back in Puerto Rico, but for me, it’s Frida’s and every single other Mexican restaurant is fighting for second place and they should teach how to make those margaritas. Some people hate root beer, sarsaparilla, and other weird sodas, yet I love them. White chocolate is despised and written off as basically sugar and cocoa fat, but I love it. Uni nigiri sushi (sea urchin) makes some people nauseous, while few bites of food can match its ability to transport me to another world. Seriously, it’s the closest you’ll see me to have a cartoon reaction in real life.

 

In short, I like what I like and can agree to disagree…and mean it. I didn’t enjoy Twilight the movie or would even consider reading 50 Shades of Gray, but am thankful they exist because BOTH series have gotten people into reading again. I am not a huge fan of Top 40 music, but for some reason, I enjoy Post Malone (just don’t play his cover of Hootie and the Blowfish’s hit, Only wanna be with you, unless it’s for a young’un). I can’t say I’ve listened to Celine Dion albums, but I recognize world class talent when it’s apparent and would happily see her live. In short, I’m not closed to most experiences without giving them a try if I’m intrigued or interested.

 

When it comes to food, I don’t like pig’s feet, or organ based dishes like mondongo, gandinga, cuajito, or haggis (haggis being the only one I haven’t tried). But if something looks appetizing and interesting, I’ll at least give it a go. I’m not a fan of country music, yet there are some country songs I do enjoy (more than likely it’ll be a slow one). I’m not a huge fan of romance novels, but I’ve read one or two that I did enjoy and if highly recommended, would give another a chance. 

 

But let’s take it a step further.

 

I’m not a fan of Kanye West, the man. Beyond mental instability, I think he’s pompous, self-aggrandizing, has a messianic complex, and in general is a tool, but to have an opinion, I listened to his entire discography. Verdict? For 75% of his work, not my cuppa tea, and honestly? Unimpressed. I can point you to at least 5 other artists whom I think make better music, have more talent, and have had a more profound impact on music (Kendrik Lamar, Run the Jewels, Public Enemy, Wu-Tang, and the underappreciated Lords of the Underground off the top of my head). I can also double down on my opinion that part of his success is his attitude. Sure, I may loathe it, but other people gobble it up, and hey, that’s OK. To each their own and once again, say it with me…

 

#YouDoYou.

 

When it comes to books, any highbrow behavior is not to my liking and elitist sentiments are a sure fire way of getting on my bad side. On a base level, Bill Maher rubs me the wrong way and has for a long time, especially because he can so often be so pompous. When Stan Lee passed away, he belittled the impact of Lee and even went so far as to criticize people who read comics as dumber than people who read books without pictures. Needless to say, he can go shove it, whatever it is. He’s tripled down on this opinion and well, I can triple down on my opinion that he’s an asshole and could easily find ample evidence to support this…but instead, I focus on other things and spend my time and energy elsewhere, because I’ve already spent too many words and calories on giving him any sort of thought. That’s his opinion and fortunately, he’s entitled to it, even if he thinks his opinion supersedes most anyone else’s. Once again, let’s say it again…

 

#YouDoYou

 

Another angle to this topic is when people change their opinions in the face of others, to be part of the group, or dare we say it, be part of the cool kids. If there is any behavior I wish upon a star EVERYONE grows out of, it’s this, because it just magnifies insecurities. For me, it’s pretty simple, if acceptance by others depends on my position in regards to something, then that’s not the crowd for me…or you. You deserve better. You deserve to like what you like and be accepted regardless because life is too short to not enjoy yourself just for appearances’ sake. So say it one more time with me, with feeling, with kindness, with generosity, with understanding, and with acceptance.

 

#YouDoYou

 

Peace, love, and maki rolls

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Tazas y Portadas Book Tag

Hacía un ratico que no escribía en español aunque este post no será muy largo. Es para compartir mi booktag original en Booktube: El Tazas y Portadas Book Tag.

Primero, ¿qué es BookTube? BookTube es una subcomunidad en YouTube en donde amantes de los libros de alrededor del mundo hablan sobre libros de todo tipo manera. Lo que les gusta, lo que no les gusta, libros que están por salir y entre los tipos de videos que se hacen, están los book tags. Este tipo de video incluye una serie de pregunta y la idea es que hagas un video en tu canal de YouTube, en tu página de Facebook, Instagram o donde sea y compartas y compares contestaciones. Es algo bien divertido ya que puedes comparar gustos con gente y conoces MUCHOS amantes de los libros de esa manera y de alrededor del mundo. Yo he hecho este y otros tipos de videos hace años aunque nunca había hecho un book tag en español.

Anyways, abajo te incluyo las 8 preguntas del tag para que contestes como gustes y conectes con más personas. Yo escogí hacerlo de Tazas y Portadas porque tengo mis libros en esa librería y les tengo mucho aprecio y respeto como humanos y profesionales. Ahora si hay otra librería independiente que le tienes amor, en confianza compártelo con nosotros. Espero que disfrutes y hasta la próxima, un abrazo.

JD


Tazas y Portadas Book Tag


1. Sabor Local: ¿Qué autores locales has descubierto gracias a Tazas y Portadas?

2. De puya a bibí: ¿Cómo tomas tu café y qué personaje de algún libro eres fanático que le encanta el café?

3. Waffles: ¿Qué libros de autores boricuas has leído en otro idioma que no sea español?

4. Suspenders: Los que trabajan en Tazas usan unos tirantes amarillos y son un fashion statement de lo más chévere. ¿Qué autor o autora boricua tiene un sentido de moda interesante?

5. Affogato: Cuál es una obra que hayas leído en el último año que tenga sabores intensos y contrastes interesantes entre sus páginas.

6. Menú variado: Si fueses a recomendar 4 libros en español de diferentes géneros a lo típico, ¿cuáles recomendarías?

7. Somos todos latinos: ¿libros de autores que no sean de PR que estarás leyendo este año?

8. Para llevar: Libros de autores boricuas que estarás leyendo durante el año

Espero que te motives para hacer un video en YouTube, Facebook o Instagram o compartas tus contestaciones en tu blog. :) Un abrazo

JD


ALSO, if you speak English and would like the prompts, here they are translated:


ENGLISH

1. Local Flavor: Which local authors, (local to you) have you discovered thanks to your favorite local bookstore?

2. From pitch black to barely coffee: How do you take your coffee and what is your favorite character form a book, film, video game, or TV series who loves coffee?

3. Waffles: What books from local authors have you read in another language?

4. Suspenders: People who work at the Tazas y Portadas bookshop in Puerto Rico wear yellow suspenders which are a fashion statement I dig. What author has a unique sense of fashion you find interesting?

5. Affogato: What is a book you read during the last year that had intense flavors and interesting contrasts within its pages?

6. Varied menu: If you were to recommend 4 books from either indie authors or that are not discussed to no end on Booktube, which would you recommend?

7. We are all Latinos…actually we’re all human: Although this tag was made in Spanish I love exploring books from people around the world. What books by people outside the UK, Canada, and the US will you be reading this year?

8. To-go: Local authors to you that you’ll be reading during the year

Have a good one and remember to support local businesses and til next time...

Peace, love, and maki rolls

JD

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Ongoing Wave of American Racial Violence

Every so often, I find myself calling up friends to see if they’re OK. Sometimes it’s because of a winter storm, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods. Sometimes it’s because I see a spike in COVID cases in a general area. And unfortunately, sometimes it’s because they’re either Black, Latino, Middle-Eastern, or Asian. 

During the previous post, I spoke about the latest mass shootings in Boulder and Atlanta, and for good reason. One of the cases is still potentially a hate crime and still under investigation. Reading a bit about the guy’s history, I see enough things to at least not think it’s a repeat of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. In that case, two individuals targeted Arbery, pursued him, confronted him while armed, and eventually shot him. In last week’s case, if you read the headline, it seems extremely plausible that it was a targeted crime, but there’s a chance that it wasn’t focused on race, even though statistically speaking, it is very possible. 

 

All of this is very different to the countless other cases of violence against Asians and Asian Americans and the surge in incidents since the pandemic begun. Terms like Kung-Flu and China virus are benign to a certain type of person that fails to see the danger and damage done with these and many other terms. Some people have even said things on the lines of celebrating Kung-Flu because it’s hilarious. I’m not saying that I don’t see the humor, I’m saying that using that term in every day vernacular is asking to target people of Asian descent and I really don’t think that’s a stretch with what people capture on film. 

 

The U.S. has a storied history of violence and within its abundance of abuse, there’s a wealth of racial violence and racial tension. The first problem with that statement is the flat out refusal of the problem and saying that things are blown out of proportion. Yet statistics say otherwise, as does behavior, as do headlines, as do people complaining that their free speech is being infringed upon, even if it is hate speech. People would have you believe that white settlers came and conquered peacefully when the reality is that Native Americans across North, Central, and South America were basically exterminated numbering in the millions by the English and Spanish settlers, representing the single largest genocide in recorded history.

 

Slavery is also well documented and to see recently that some people think it’s a shame it was abolished, as well as lamenting women’s ability to vote shows that there is definitely a dangerous thought tendency in recent times. It's not the norm, it's not the majority, but it is there, and denying it is as dangerous as encouraging it. Maybe this has always been a sentiment, but for people to outwardly and comfortably make an argument against voting rights for women and minorities in the 21st century shows why there has been a rise in violence against Asian people, not to mention other minorities. 

 

Has there been a rise in violence towards Latinos and Black people as well? Of course. Middle Eastern people and people who are Jewish and Muslim? Them too. The phrase, “Go back to where you came from” is unfortunately very common and has always been very common in this country. What’s saddest is when a white person tells this to a Native American, and do so un-ironically. The problem is when you have people playing both sides of the narrative at different times to cater to what serves their interests best, depending on what they want to project or achieve. Case in point, people calling for an end of violence against Asians, while also having quotes that could be tied to anti-Asian sentiments because it caters to their base, i.e. referring to COVID-19 as the Asian virus to offer a common and easily verifiable example.

 

Unfortunately, if anti-Asian sentiments cater to any sort of audience, then logic dictates that certain parts of the population are anti-Asian. In fact, if you look at most minorities, there are countless events documenting discrimination towards people of other races, religions, gender, and color. Black people face a lot of this and one of the favorite counter points from certain sectors is to talk about Black-on-Black crime to sway the conversation elsewhere, preferably far away from the point. This can be argued for or against depending what sources you wish to quote. But that’s another topic and I only bring it up for one reason, no one ever talks about Asian-on-Asian crime and my experience with Asian communities is of a lot of solidarity. Do all Asian countries get along? Not really, but this is a complicated concept in and of itself. 

 

Let me explain from my perspective. As a Latino, I can understand some of what Asians might experience, specifically the blurred lines of countries of precedence. Thanks to Bad Bunny, J-Lo, Benicio del Toro, Ricky Martin, and Hurricane María, people are more aware of where Puerto Rico is located. For reference, it is the smallest of the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean. The official languages of Puerto Rico are English and Spanish and politically speaking, it is a confusing mess that most people don’t understand, but that’s beside the point. What is the point is that it is an Island in the Caribbean and people who come from Puerto Rico identify as either Hispanic or Latino. Before these high profile people and events, when I would say I was from Puerto Rico, I would often get questions like: how long does it take to drive from Puerto Rico here, where in Mexico is that, where in Central America is that, or where in South America is that? Fortunately, people knew that by being Puerto Rican I was Latino, but beyond that, there wasn’t a lot of knowledge regarding where Puerto Rico was, not to mention what it was. 

 

When you’re Asian and you say you’re from Laos, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, and other countries, you might get asked where in China that is. If you say you’re from Cambodia, some people might think you’re from an African country, even if it's nowhere near the African Continent. The only distinction that I think is common is that for the most part, people at least know Japan and China are different countries located in different places. This could be in part due to World War 2 or maybe the prevalence of cuisines, where Chinese cuisine is very different from sushi. This means that like Latinos, Asians are lumped into the same demographic and aren’t differentiated, even if culture, customs, cuisine, religions, and history show drastic disparities. What I mean by this is that using terms like China virus and kung-flu are an attack on all Asian people. 

 

In recent months and particularly weeks there has been a rise in attacks against Asian people. I’d like to say it culminated with last week’s murder spree, but that would mean that it would be a peak, and that the end was in fact near. Unfortunately, I don’t see this stopping, because although we are not seeing cases of police brutality against Asians, we are seeing attacks on them. Also, just because we don’t hear about police brutality against Asians doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Abuse against this demographic has long been overlooked and swept under the rug and it wasn’t until George Takei’s Broadway show Allegiance, that many people (myself included) were made aware of Japanese internment camps and how prevalent anti-Japanese and in general anti-Asian sentiments were and continue to be. Which begs the question, why isn’t this more top of mind? This can be due to representation (or lack thereof) and the fact that it doesn’t get the ratings other headlines get. That doesn’t change that it is a reality people are facing.

 

Last week, a young man went on a killing spree. There is a possibility that it was a hate crime. This is still under investigation.


However, beyond that case, there are several other instances where Asian people have been targeted and attacked. This is not speculation. This is fact. Cases where there is no gray area and it was a blatant aggression against a person of Asian descent for being of Asian descent, and unfortunately on more than one occasion against elderly people. These were not accidents and they sure as hell are not isolated cases. What we do to recognize there is a problem and that it’s our duty to protect our fellow human will determine how we respond to yet another crisis. But for that, we need to recognize that there is a problem…and there lies our first obstacle, because few deterrents are more effective than denial. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Times of Voluntary Blindness

It almost seems impossible to check the news and not read about some new tragedy, abuse of power, or disaster. As we continue to try to wrap our head around what life is for each of us during a pandemic, it should come as no surprise that tensions run high and worrying things keep happening. Things that people turn a blind eye to, justify, or blatantly deny. But the more things happen, the clearer it becomes that race, racism, prejudice, and violence are here to stay.

 

Last week, a white American murdered 8 people, 6 who were Asian women in 3 locations around Atlanta. This week a Syrian American murdered 10 people in a supermarket in Boulder. 


I had to rewrite those first two sentences a couple of times to be as objective as possible.


 There are stark similarities and differences between the cases and some people will see parallels while others see opposites. The reality is that some things coincide, others do not, and there are several topics to discuss in each, but like many things in life, things get muddled.

 

The similarities: 

  • Both suspects are 21. 
  • Both are male. 
  • Both had access to guns. 
  • Both seem to be troubled and have a history of behavioral problems. 


In the case of the Boulder suspect, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa seems to have a history of paranoia, violent outbursts, and although shocked, the initial reaction doesn’t seem one of surprise from anyone who knew him. His temper has been on record for several things that have happened before. He went into the store with a modified weapon and started shooting. In the case of Robert Aaron Long, a pattern of problematic behavior was also evident, with reports indicating he had been treated for sexual addiction, but that he had also had a falling out in his home, from where he was kicked out the evening prior to the shootings. He then proceeded to go to three locations with several miles in between them and murdered 8 people. 

 

The differences: 

  • In the Boulder case, it was a matter of who was in the vicinity would suffer the suspect’s wrath. 
  • In the Atlanta case, three spas were possibly targeted, and most victims fell under one demographic, Asian females. 

 

Both of these individuals were troubled. Both had access to guns. One possibly targeted people. The other seemed to just go on a shooting spree. Unfortunately, we are living times that are as racially tense as anything most of us have ever lived. Narratives shall be spun on motive and method and people will once again offer thoughts and prayers. 


Will any legislation be passed to regulate weapons? 

Not likely, if we look at this country’s track record. 


Will mental health be given higher priority, especially during a time of such distress as what we’re all living through? 

Highly unlike as well. The opposite seems to be the case, seeing certain cuts in coverage of mental health services. 


Will the race card be played? Of course, and so will religion. 


Here’s the thing, people will scream that Aliwi was Muslim. I mean, scream it. But how many people will point to Long being Christian or Baptist to be more specific? How many people will turn a blind eye to that or brush it off, because of course in that case, it is of no consequence. 


Think about this, both suspects are 21. That means that for 9/11 both of them were 1-year-old. I don’t know what, if anything, Aliwi faced while growing up, but I do have Muslim friends who have had to endure a lot of prejudice, targeting, attacks, and harassment. In the case of Long, he grew up Christian, often carried a Bible and somehow fell into porn addiction. From seeing the mug shots of both, they land into versions of stereotypes we’ve grown too accustomed to…both situations caused the unnecessary loss of life and while investigators try to piece things together, one is a mass shooting, while the other is possibly a hate crime, though can also just be a case of another avoidable tragedy that was slowly but surely pushed past the edge. How some people can focus on one religion and deny another, focus on one race and turn a blind eye to another is still something I have a hard time coming to terms with, even if I see it very frequently. But those are the times we’re living, muddled and complicated.

 

As for the events in Atlanta, was it a hate crime? Was it an extension of what’s been gaining momentum since the pandemic begun? Or was it just a coincidence…Although only time will tell, the timing is what brings this problem to the forefront and something to discuss in another blog post. For now, let us hope that focus is put on the things we can in fact remedy, before we add another tragedy to an already depressing list. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Creative Connections: Vartra

It had been a while since I did a Creative Connection and wanted to do something a little bit different so started with Heart of Autumn and now I have the pleasure to do my first band interview on For Writing Out Loud. As a frequent contributor to Go Indie Now, I do my best to shine a light on independent musicians and bands who could use a little more exposure and whose music I think is perfect for everything from exercising to writing. I also LOVE exploring music from around the world and sharing that wealth and recently I came across Vartra, a Serbian band that explores world fusion, dark folk, and extremely ethereal music that to me is ideal music to write or for a film score. Founded in 2017 by Siniša Gavrić and sisters Ivana and Aleksandra Stošić, Vartra takes musical inspiration from Slavic and Vlachian folk themes and Native American drumming. It’s different, it’s out there, it’s downright magical quite often, and I’m pleased to have them over for a chat.

 

1. Zdravo, from the other side of the world! So nice to have you on the blog. Can you tell the readers a bit more about Vartra, the meaning of the band’s name, how the project came together and what the first years of the band has been like? 

 

Zdravo! Thank you for inviting us. As you mentioned in the introduction, we are heavily inspired by the southern Slavic relics present in the oral tradition of the Balkan region. Even though the Slavic influence is most notable in our lyrics and style of vocals, our musical inspiration is drawn from a far broader pool. We are combining different indigenous musical practices from various regions (such as shamanic drumming, didgeridoo, middle-eastern instruments etc.) as well as the influences of musical subcultures we all grew up with (80’s and 90’s ambient, metal, post punk, gothic etc.). The name Vartra comes from the Sanskrit word for protection, defense, warding off – chosen to complement the ritual healing and protection spells from the Balkan region that inspired our early works. The band was founded through a friendly artistic collaboration of Siniša Gavrić and the sisters Ivana and Aleksandra Stošić. In the first year of existence, the founding trio was mostly focused on composing and recording the music that is now our first album “Luna Noua”. During this time, we also produced and recorded a few music videos for the songs with the help of the performers from Ivana’s dance studio “Twisted Dolls”. As the album slowly came together, there was a need to share this music with the world and other musicians were recruited to the band to bring the instrumental variety of this music to life on stage. The current lineup includes Stevan Momčilović (didgeridoo, rattles), Andrej Bunjac (djembe, other percussion), Ana Katić (violin, backing vocals), Julius Velker (drums, sound engineer).

 

2. Where did Siniša connect with the Stošić sisters?

 

After a decade of living in North America, Siniša returned to Serbia in 2016. He was friends with Ivana since 2010 and upon his return they started to live together as roommates. Being a frame-drum and rattle craftsman, Siniša incorporated handmade instruments into his music compositions and included Ivana in the singing/song writing process. Sometime in 2017, Ivana’s pole art troop decided to develop a performance describing a Vlach ritual from Eastern Serbia “Dubočke Kraljice”. The idea was to compose and use original music reminiscent of the Vlach rituals but with a strong rhythm suitable for dance. That was when Ivana’s sister Aleksandra joined them bringing her methodical approach to the table. In four months, the three of them worked to compose 60 minutes of music for the performance. The completion of this project marked the beginning of their creative teamwork and future collaboration. After the festival, they started composing new songs, eventually recruiting new members and kicking off a successful series of live shows in the years that followed. 

 

3. When I first heard Luna Nouà, I was reminded a bit of Heilung from Germany although a bit less freaky, a bit more mystical, and even more accessible (to me at least). I think it’s deep and rich music that definitely paints a picture. If there were an art exhibit inspired by Vartra, what are some art pieces you would like to see in the exhibit? 

 

That is quite a compliment. Heilung is amazing! As to the art exhibit, that is an interesting and tough question. We would definitely like to see photos depicting old traditions like for example the work of Evo Danchev (we really admire his work) or works of Damselfrau. Definitely photos depicting traditional festivals (example the carnival of Vevcani in North Macedonia, Busójárás in Hungary). If the more classical art work or concrete art pieces are in question, maybe Albrecht Durer’s The four horsemen, Viktor Vasnetsov’s Sirin and Alkonost. A few more could be Nymphs Dancing to Pan’s Fluteby Joseph Tomanek, Dancing Fairies by Johan August Malmström, and all such magical, pagan and simply natural (as in mountain landscapes) paintings would fit very well. 

  



4. The cover work for the album is quite stunning. Who did the artwork and what was the inspiration behind that visual and the album itself? 


 

Thank you. Our art performer Anđela Vujić designed the album cover. It features the beautiful Luna moth, that represents intuition. The first album has a lot of influences from the cultural heritage of the Vlach ethnic minority in Eastern Serbia. The song Flori is inspired by the Vlachian ritual singing on the morning of the holiday Cveti. The holiday Cveti traditionally celebrates the beginning of the spring. The song Primovara (Spring) depicts the dawn of the holiday Cveti before the ritual performance is about to take place. The lyrics of the song Luna Nuoă are part of the Vlach oral lore as well, as one of the incantations for health, sung to the new moon. Other songs include fragments of Vlach oral lore (Roša and Jo Čero), or of Serbian incantations (Mrza, Razija). Žal (Mojot Dom) is inspired by transcendental experiences and written by Ivana Stošić (Macedonian language).

 

5. Checking my blog stats, I don’t have ­­­­­­­many­ people who are from your neck of the woods. How would you describe Serbia to someone who isn’t familiar with the country?

 

It is a beautiful country. If you love hiking or just being in nature you should definitely check out some of our many mountains. There are many well preserved medieval monasteries and fortresses open for tourists. Due to the centuries long Ottoman Empire occupation of the Balkans, our cultural heritage is a mix of Slavic and Oriental, which you can hear in the music, see in traditional dresses and architecture, taste in the food. You can also visit the prehistoric sites on our territory reaching all the way back to the Neolith era (Vinca’s relics and settlements, Lepenski Vir). The 20th century left Serbia with a lot of traces from the socialism era (Yugoslavia) – just by walking through the streets of any city in Serbia you cannot miss these. Serbian people are generally recognized as friendly hosts, so welcome!

 


6. I read that the lyrics are inspired by Vlachian incantations and performed in (Wallachian) language, Serbian, and Macedonian. Most people won’t be familiar with these languages, though music often taps into something more primal that connects us. Ideally, what would you want your music to evoke in listeners around the world? 

 

We believe that the perception is quite individual. What we would like to evoke are cathartic experiences as per individual needs and without the given context (meaning of the lyrics for example). One of newer to date yet unpublished songs, Jerovine, is sung in a crafted language for this very reason. On the other hand, we decided to base our songs on the incantations (spells) from this region, because they are an important relic of our culture and history and unfortunately close to be forgotten. This is our way of giving them a chance to survive.

 

7. What are some of the most peculiar places where you have fans?

  

Thanks to our social media – Twitter, Facebook, Bandcamp, Youtube and Siniša’s online drum shop on Etsy we have found fans all around the world spanning multiple continents. Besides the Balkans, we came in touch with fans from both North and South America, Russia, North African countries etc. In the current day and age, it is difficult to reach audiences without a serious marketing budget but we are happy that no one reached by our music was left indifferent by it and that the base of people enjoying our works grows steadily every day.

 

8. A director of a video game or movie contacts the band’s representatives…they need a score for a movie. What type of movie or game does the band envision their work adding to the overall experience to create something truly special? 

 

Given the variety and emotional intensity of Vartra’s music it could be a fit for many things. Obviously it fits perfectly with the dark medieval fantasy genre. Our music has a strong rhythmic and vocal components and it fits well with narrative scenes of mystery, tension and even with medieval combat choreography. Some of our fans likened our music to that from “Heroes of Might and Magic” or “The Witcher” and there is never a shortage of historical and dark fantasy on the market. Titles like “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” or “Horizon: Zero Dawn” could be further enriched by the atmosphere of some of Vartra’s tracks. Other genres where we could contribute would include psycho thriller, utopian/post-apocalyptic fiction, historical and epic drama, anthropological and spiritual topics. Some examples might be movies with similar topics/atmosphere such as Mid Sommar (Ari Aster) and The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers) for example. Essentially Vartra would be a great match with any work of visual art that could benefit from raw intense emotion transmitted through drumming and ethnic vocals.

 

9. You describe your shows as a cathartic experience, almost a healing ceremony. Dark but in a way where the darkness is drawn away from the spectator. Can you tell us more about that and what the intention behind the music is like?

 


Repetitive drumming, chanting and dancing were the core elements in rituals since the beginning of civilization when it came to ceremonial/healing practices. Although one might perceive our music as “dark” listening it for the first time, we use the same approach by incorporating the primal, organic sound with the mantric drumming and through the repetitive, atmospheric sound and simplicity of harmony - we believe we part with the darkness. Similar to shamanic healing, where the shaman leads an individual to face and recognize their traumas and guides them to overcome and heal, each individual spectator can experience this process for themselves by surrendering themselves to the sound and atmosphere around.

 

10. How many instruments are there in the album? I ask because beyond some more common instruments, the band performs on handmade drums and rattles crafted by Siniša. Also, how long does it take to make those instruments and where did he learn how to do this?

 

A lot. Percussions make the majority of our sound. They range from handmade frame drums and rattles, sticks, darbuka, djembe, rainstick to bells, cymbals etc. As for the melodic instruments, we use flute, didgeridoo, violin, keyboard, saz, electric guitar and the most perfect instrument of them all – the human voice. Siniša learned how to make frame drums in 2006 while he was in North America, following the traditional drum making from First Nation Tribes such as the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh etc. The whole drum making process takes a couple days to complete. After coming back to his motherland, Siniša developed and perfected his own style in frame drum making that is recognized by many as stunning craftsmanship infused with great energy. 


  

11. Imagine that there is a spiritual retreat that wants the band to perform live, but beyond that, they want to throw the band a feast. What would be the food and drink for the festival? 

 

As with our entire mantra, Vartra cherishes everything coming from local traditions of the regions we visit. We are not picky eaters, but we love to eat a lot and if we get to have a personalized feast – put together anything that would be picked by the locals as something “you must try”. J 


Food is an important part of any country’s cultural heritage and any food or beverage that’s traditional and local is welcome for the tasting. We are still talking about the beautiful feast at the Javorwood festival in Bosnia and Herzegowina, with the traditional food and beverage served outdoors in the mountains. 

 

12. And all that is left is to roll the red carpet. Where can people connect with Vartra, the music, and what are the best ways to support the band beyond just streaming the album? 

 

We’re out there, everywhere. Check our Spotify, Bandcamp and Youtube for music, our Official website, Instagram and Facebook for announcements, pictures etc. Also, check out our Etsy stores, there you can buy Siniša’s shaman drums and rattles and Ivana’s tribal fashion pieces. The best way to support us is by spreading the word!

 

Official Website

Youtube

Bandcamp

Spotify

Facebook

Instagram

 

Vartra Etsy Stores:

www.etsy.com/shop/VartraDrums | www.etsy.com/shop/VartraTribe

 





 * * * *

 

And there you have it, though I already loved the music, it's been an absolute treat to connect with Vartra and get to know a bit more about them, their mantra, and to find out about local traditions and artists. In addition, they are people after my heart with a shared love for exploring local food and drink. Stay tuned to Go Indie Now where I'll be reviewing their album Luna Noua and keep an eye out for upcoming releases. This is a band to keep your eye on as well as delighting your ears with some mystical melodies. Thanks again for connecting creatively, and til next we meet through words...


Peace, love, and maki rolls