Wednesday, January 2, 2008

How I got from There to HERE

I’ve been a tree hugger since before I entered Ms. Aster’s Kindergarten classroom. I used to play tag with a palm tree in our front lawn on Occidental Street during the powerful and warm Santa Ana Winds. I got sap stuck to my cheeks when I embraced the pines next to our cabin in the mountains of Idyllwild. In Eisenhower Park, I sat on pepper tree branches high above the ground, pretending to be Kelly Garret (Jaclyn Smith) from Charlie’s Angels or climbed my favorite sycamore, crying desperate tears when they cut it down – just like in Shel Silverstein’s book The Giving Tree. I attempted to reach my fingertips around massive oak trees and stared up at the elephant blue sky through leafy willow trees of Irvine Park. I breathed the eucalyptus trees scent in Santiago Park. I knew beyond a doubt that a BEING lived in every tree I have ever loved. And yet I figured it was something only a child could relate to.
You can imagine my joy when I watched the tree spirits come to life in Shirley Temple’s movie Blue Bird. Soon afterwards I read C.S. Lewis. He knew and loved the dryads as much as I did. Since an adult or two confirmed what I believed to be true – nature possesses a consciousness – I decided that I would find others of like mind. I spent many years looking for a tribe of tree huggers. Everywhere I looked I ran into dead ends. I must admit thought, I wasn’t without guidance. My stepfather raised us in the Christian Science faith. I learned from an early age that I had the power to create my future. I was told that by focusing on what I want, the wholeness and inherent goodness of me, that I could manifest my wildest dreams. I applied this to school, athletics, jobs. And it worked, with a strong faith, it almost always worked. Additionally my stepdad’s mother (by the way he is just dad, but I’m just being clear here), was a psychic, and so very early I learned how to trust my intuition and be sensitive to changes in energy. And I had my family.
I am half a bean - my mother is Mexican and my dad is Anglo. That first dad split when I was three so really I only got one heritage, Latina. I was born on a rainy day two days before Christmas in Santa Ana, California amongst a sea of brown faces. My maternal grandmother, I'm told I would have called her Nana, died one month before I was born leaving the faint scent of old photographs to piece together her legacy. When we lived in S.A. ("essaaay" with a pronounced accent), I wasn't brown enough. I tried to gather Latin pride but my grandfather had preached assimilation years before. It made sense in the 40s. Hell, he flew more missions than the Memphis Belle and couldn't get a job anywhere after the war 'cept as a janitor. But in the 70s, I just didn't understand. We moved to Orange, Ca, to a sea of white faces. I wore my Latina-ness like a chip on my shoulder - willing to fight anyone who put my people down. I was a regular Helen Reddy meets Pancho Villa poster child.
"You are the good kind of Mexican - not the kind that walked over - the kind that came on a boat," announced my new blond haired, blue-eyed friend. I was insulted beyond words. But the funny thing was, at least for part of my lineage, she was right. A week later I stood on the balcony of a large hacienda overlooking hundreds of people at my great grandfather's 94th birthday. There I learned our family had once owned 72,000 acres, equivalent to 7 cities, the largest and first land grant given in Orange County. But the lawyers stole it during the "Greaser Act" of 1848. First I'm not brown enough, and then I'm too brown. Now I'm a Spanish land heiress cheated out of her legacy? Who makes up these rules anyway?
I grabbed at wisps trying to be Mexican. It was the only culture I wanted to want me. I ate Mexican bread, but couldn't choke down chorizo, much less menudo. I ate the habanero chilis and fried my own tacos and taquitos - no premade shells please. And yet, I didn't learn the language. Maybe I was embarrassed that for all my Chicana pride I still had to learn it in school with the rest of the gringos. Maybe I was rebelling against "them" for not teaching me what I so desperately wanted to know. The scent of the old photograph wafts passed and I feel I must press on.
When I was eleven years old, my parents put my sister and I on a train to Vista to stay with our aunt and uncle for two weeks. And there was barefoot Aunt Sadie, practicing yoga, eating only fruit, skinny dipping in her black-bottom pool, feeding her roosters and chickens on a hugely overgrown two acre garden, getting high with her friends, and drinking red wine. She had a humongous closet full of scarves and colorful, free flowing clothes that I could wear whenever I liked. My Goddess, I was in heaven.
Sadie came from Scotland when she was nine years old. Her family history came via Ireland. She told me stories of seeing and talking with faeries. She was the epitome of a Sagittarian gypsy, and finally I had an example I could emulate. Being with Sadie made me want to be Celtic, particularly Scottish, even though I still told everyone (regardless of whether or not they asked) that I was Mexican.
Years later, a new friend named Jeanette invited me to her house for a Spring Equinox ritual. I attended these Celtic rituals and found great contentment. Soon after I gained the opportunity to write The Wicca Cookbook. I wrote much of this book at Tea & Sympathy – an English tea shoppe in Costa Mesa, California. They had a traveling store that sold Celtic wares at Celtic faires/festivals and Scottish Highland Games and thus hosted me for my first ever booksigning. And so with this combination of intrinsic tree hugging, metaphysical teachings, and Latino ritual, my career was launched through Wicca even though I had this love of my Latina heritage.
Four books later, I wrote The Latino Writers & Journalists book and discovered that magic (magical realism) is an integral part of my culture. It’s so a part of it, I didn’t see it properly upon my searches for metaphysical connections.
Most recently I wrote Rogelia’s House of Magic (released June 10, 2008). The book that finally brings it all together – magic, Latina, and my family land of over 200 years - Orange County, California. I wanted to include a Scottish or Irish girl, named Sadie, but she got cut. Hopefully there will be a sequel and I can bring her in. Almost like a sign though, the cover designer put a claudaugh symbol on an anklet. I tend to over interpret, but I like to see this as a good omen. What do you think?

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