Lo mejor de lo peor de Las Hermanas Coraje — #freakshow

Lo mejor de lo peor de Las Hermanas Coraje — #freakshow

Todo tiene su final.

Cuentos, obras, películas…familias.

Después de días de vida y muerte, de perdida and desenlace, nuestro tiempo con Las Hermanas Coraje ha llegado a su último capítulo…por fin.

I guess it is human nature to prefer extreme situations to rational ones. We joke it ain’t drama unless it’s Mexican drama, but in this case I can’t see it as anything else anymore. It is time to put the novela that is my life on hiatus for a moment to focus on more inspiring — and less revealing — topics. But, don’t begrudge me this chance to not go so quiet into the night just yet. You won’t believe the freak show that has become “Los Hermanas Coraje.” This is just a preview of what’s under the big tent they’ve staged — a circus from which they will never escape:

  • Behold The Sisters of the Coldest Heart, defying the warmth of family and preferring the frost of rancor, manipulation and bitterness.
  • Witness The Puppet Man’s strings pulled by the Sisters, who script his every word and plot his every move as they peel away the last shreds of his masculinity.
  • Thrill to the amazing control of The Invisible Matriarch, whose presence is always felt, even though she doesn’t bother to appear at all.

United they stand, but divided we’ve become for the moment. Some of us want their heads on a stick as payback for the show of disrespect they’ve forced us to view. But I don’t want to be in their center ring anymore.

I contributed to the Great Divide, which I don’t regret. Sure, I am angry that they took to not only insulting members of my family as being the reason for this split, but not enough to stir more blood in the water. What I cannot abide with is the disrespect shown to the memory of someone who did nothing but open her home and heart — only to see it belittled as an act of convenience and greed.

Now we are grappling over who gets to have the last word, that last grand gesture that becomes family legend; the one that begins, “We showed them…” But showed them what? The truth?We already know they prefer fantasy to reality, so what’s the point of stripping the bark off their grossly idealized family tree? A better expressed kiss off statement? Who gives a shit if we have a stronger, nuanced vocabulary, we still only mean to say “fuck you!”

I wish it would stop. All their “mean girls” maneuvering is bad enough and we are all just grinding the gears further down. As for parents wanting to protect their kids’ honor? There is nothing honorable about making phone calls or showing up at someone’s door to start a fight. (Although, the idea of warring matriarchs, “Falcon Crest” style would make for one AWESOME YouTube video. Now that’s reality TV!)

My younger sister practically has “I don’t care” on a dialogue loop right now. But she’s right. Why do we care so damn much? Why do we even need to discuss sides —  much less los Coraje — anymore? It’s O-V-E-R!

We had one last last Hail Mary pass at reconciliation, but it didn’t matter. I did find their polite, almost normal, demeanor during our last encounter as being somewhat curious. Especially considering the amount of vitriol they’ve spent on discrediting me and, particularly, my older sister. A glimmer of hope was shown for a moment, but it was a mirage. Any statement of renewal would have fallen on deaf ears. The reality is the final episode of “Las Hermanas Coraje” was a callous, juvenile and destructive one. If this is what they regard as “being there” in support of a grieving uncle, I hate to see what contempt looks like.

Oh wait, we already have.

It is all pointedly clear: they’ve moved on without us. In the end, the last thing to be said between us should be: total silence. And, I know that’s incredibly hard for a family that personifies “the beautiful noise” of life. But I truly believe silence in this case would be the most powerful sound in the world. We are going to walk away our own versions of the truth anyway, forever played to our respective audiences for as long as we live.

So, I’m dropping the curtain on this show, at least for now. Truth be told, characters like these can never be kept down for long. They are destined to live forever, for the good will always need a unifying cause like vanquishing the bad. I just hope cooler heads will prevail because such poison has a tendency to spread. I almost think the insidious agenda of “Las Hermanas Coraje” includes infighting as a way of further undermining that which they tried to destroy.

I think…no…I am certain we are stronger than that.

No crying out loud when this circus leaves our town. No sawdust or glitter will be left here. All that will be left will be a family living a healthier and happier life.

Jamas nos dañaran las hermanas Coraje con sus mentiras y arrogancia. ¡Que se vayan, gente infiel y grosera! ¡Regresasen a su cuna de víboras!

Al final, sobrevivimos estos capítulos de la novela de nuestras vidas. No temo los avances porque estamos juntos, unidos por siempre, querida familia. 

Nunca los dejaré.

#Iwillneverleaveyou

Wednesday, October 14. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor, South Pasadena, CA

Susanna Contreras-Valadez: A Remembrance — #togetheragain

Susanna Contreras-Valadez: A Remembrance — #togetheragain

When I feel that I don’t belong
Draw my strength
From the words when you said
Hey it’s about you baby
Look deeper inside you baby

“Together Again” — Janet Jackson

The following is the eulogy I composed and read today, October 11, to honor the life of my Aunt Susanna Contreras-Valadez.

Good morning…and good morning to you, Aunt Susanna…

To know Susanna Contreras was to know a friendly person, a kind person. She was also a practical person…extremely practical. She was a woman who understood how life is a constant balancing act; that everything has a cause and effect, as any parent can attest:

The house won’t clean itself.

The milk carton won’t replace itself.

Sitting in front of the TV won’t get your homework done.

It’s your decision, but I will always stand by you, because I love you.

I’m sure more than one of you has uttered such phrases before. But as parents, you are the first to teach us there are no guarantees in this life. Susanna was a realist in knowing that challenges will arrive, but they do get solved because family always sticks together.

When it became apparent that my aunt’s cancer was not backing down, it was no surprise that Susanna wanted to take a very practical approach to her future. She would fast track two major life moments. So, on a sunny June afternoon, Aunt Susanna turned to me and asked:

Would I marry her and Uncle Raul? (Yes, I got myself ordained.)

Would I write her eulogy? (Yes, absolutely.)

The subject was closed and we moved on to make plans for her grandson, and my godson, Gabriel’s trip to Knott’s Berry Farm for his 15th birthday, set dates for dim sum and the next cocido brunch and it was decided who would go on the next State Line turnaround.

That was nearly four months ago. We got most of it done, but I didn’t get a chance to marry Uncle Raul and Aunt Susanna. I wouldn’t trade this honor of expressing to you all how she lived and loved in a selfless way for anything in the world. So, how do we remember Susanna Contreras-Valadez?

It is ironic that we live in an age where people prefer pictures to words. But sometimes, images need a context as to what special moments can mean. For instance, see the pictures of my aunt that decorate this room today? Know that they are of a woman who was born in Carlsbad, New Mexico, that destiny had booked her to join Raul Valadez southern California before long.

They met on a Monday before Thanksgiving in 1976.

A meal at Carl’s Jr. was involved, followed by a visit to a pool hall. But this wasn’t their first official date. That happened the following Wednesday when he took her on a tour of his neighborhood. She must of liked what she saw, because she stayed, creating a family and changing the lives of so many people in the process.

The day my family met the beautiful young woman who changed uncle Raul. (Yes, uncle. She changed you in a very good way) was a true touchstone moment. I love knowing that Aunt Susanna lived in Pico Rivera for a bit, which is where my family still lives after 47 years. We may have even crossed paths without even knowing it. I can only think that this was all so meant to be. It was obvious the family was truly complete. We had found the special sauce, the secret ingredient that just made everything better. She made all of us better.

Since my aunt took ill, these many months have been as unpredictable and uncertain as life itself. We had to face some tough realities, like discovering how even the strongest family ties can come undone; that sometimes we lose our way. This is a hard world and the concept of family has to live in it. It’s so easy to remove whatever or whoever makes you feel small. But it is so much more damaging when we attempt to sever the blood ties that helped shape us. Everyone plays a part in the truths that we live. All we ever really want is a witness to the fact that we existed, that we were loved and loved back. Why we complicate it so much, I will never understand. I do believe that forgiveness is not a myth or a sign of weakness. I believe we can all find our way back to the center. There is no good or bad here because that’s what it means to be a family and in that context, Susanna Contreras is very much a center we will miss.

Think of the family members who found refuge at the house of Francisquito and Hacienda when life threw a curve. No matter how long their stay, or how crowded the conditions: no one would go without shelter or care. Not in this family.

Think about when Uncle Raul’s mother, Maria Maya passed away. Recall the concern in Susanna’s voice when she said Ama couldn’t leave this earthly world without her favorite earrings.

Think about those massive holiday dinners Aunt Susanna would prepare for days, jamming the tables into the living room so we could all sit together and unleash the beautiful noise that is us. The fruit salad; those deviled eggs!

At this moment, I would expect to see some side eye from my aunt. She knows when to pull us back down to Earth when we get too grand. She was the calm in the center of the chaos that is us. She never made a big show or expected a reward for all that she’d do for us. She did it because she loved us.

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There is nothing too grand in saying how important family was to my aunt. Being a family is about representing its worth, its strength, and most of all, its love. Today, we honor all the roles she will forever represent:

Susanna Contreras is Sam and Celia’s daughter

She is Philip and Sandra’s sister.

She is wife to Raul Valadez.

She is mother to Denise, Daniel, Alyssa and Jamie.

She is grandmother to Gabriel, Sarah, Andrea, Sydney and Abigail.

She is mother in-law to Luis.

She is stepmother to Raul Jr., Diana and Vanessa, and step-grandmother to Julianna and Carlos.

She is sister in-law to Lilia and Jorge Carreon, aunt to Lilia, Jorge, Nancy and Ernesto.

She is sister in-law Maria Consuelo Garcia, aunt to Isidro Jr., Brenda and Connie.

She is a perfect confidante and friend.

She is an avid fan of a good “Law and Order” marathon.

She is one hell of a cook.

She is the sparkle that would appear in her eyes when she was so happy.

She is the big smile that appears when she tells you, “I love you too much.”

My aunt and I shared a lot, especially a love for words. It is said that we write our own stories with the lives that we lead. While we are painfully aware that those we love will die, and sometimes too soon, you must remember that it takes real courage to live. Susanna Contreras-Valadez did exactly that – she lived life with courage and on her terms.

There are so many other words and stories to help define Susanna. Please share your stories with the people gathered here today. Keep this dialogue going long after we leave each other’s company. Tell everyone what made Susanna so important to you. That is how you keep those we love with us on Earth.

It’s hard to say goodbye to Aunt Susanna. It was hard to read a version of this eulogy to her just a few days before she left us. (Yes, she had notes.)

I didn’t want this process to end because I knew it would make her loss that much more real when I reached the last words on this page.

Susanna was supposed to have the final say, but we didn’t get a chance to record that for you. I asked her what was the most important thing she learned in this life. Her answer? Life, in the end, is funny. We need to take time to laugh about it, even if life makes us cry.

So, keep this very practical thing in mind. When that moment hits you, and you’re missing Susanna something awful, turn on the TV and search for this sound (“Law and Order” sound effect). That’s her telling you she’s right there with you, she’s listening, she’s laughing…

And that she loves you too much.

Saturday, October 11 — Written in Salamanca, Spain, South Pasadena, CA and La Puente, CA. Posted from Lilybelle’s Paisley Park compound in Whittier, CA

The return of Las Hermanas Coraje — #heythere

The return of Las Hermanas Coraje — #heythere

“Hey there. Sorry about your loss…”

That’s all he got. Not a phone call.  Not a personal visit. A text. And that text, perhaps delivered in a show of support, instead felt like a crushing blow to a family already down.

Las Hermanas Coraje did not disappoint this bittersweet week of loss and family bonding. Only one of the Corajes made their way to the house that first, emotionally complex day.

We had been waiting for the other Corajes to make some show of support, offer a comforting gesture, anything. Instead, the Coraje matriarch stayed away, even though she lives just a few blocks away. To date, she’s only limited herself to a single, minute-long conversation the day before my aunt died.

As for Las hermanas C?

After their one-off performances of “The Pendeja Monologues” via phone prior to my aunt’s death, they have resurfaced to exist in a series of brief texts. The best part? These texts felt like they were written between stop lights as they ventured to the next destination in their carefully maintained lives. To be honest, anything more would probably require us using a defibrillator on them.

Just when things couldn’t get any more strained, the younger Coraje was moved to write what is now known as the “Hey There Text” to my grieving uncle. Maybe that “hey there” was just one of those little nudges we give people when we want to be tender in getting their attention? Maybe that “hey there” was how my uncle and the younger Coraje always addressed each other? Maybe it’s a musical cue, a Rosemary Clooney “Hey There?”

Maybe.

I hate texts for this reason. There is no context to feeling! And it is so easy to jump to an irrational conclusion. However, the rules of grief and consolation are very specific. You need to hear a VOICE, see a FACE, not read “HEY THERE…”

But that’s just me…and probably most people with a normal heart.

Whatever their intent, the “Hey There Text” was received as a cold gesture of fulfilling an obligation, not the warmth of a niece offering care and support to her uncle, to all of the family members who are inconsolable. In the end, it’s the one moment that finally unleashed a response text of no longer pent up fury from his daughter.

There it was. In black and misspelled white, but it didn’t matter. The emotion behind each letter registered loud and clear. You could practically hear the keys on a phone being slammed, punctuated by a “send” stroke that screeched “Fuck You!” instead of “whoosh.”

I don’t know what the aftermath will be thanks to this latest salvo of hurt feelings and incredulity. More than likely it will be spun faster than the already tangled web these spiders have created to shield themselves from us.

What happened to los C? Whatever the supposed beef against certain members of the family, fine. That score will be settled in its own time. But why are they offering so little consolation to the man who has been NOTHING but their champion these many years? At the very least, they should honor his grief. God, the level of disrespect and selfishness they’ve shown is staggering. It’s next to impossible not to think, “Yup. They’ve shown their true faces.”

As we reviewed the photo albums that day, searching for photos to illustrate my aunt’s legacy, we noticed a specific narrative in those first books. It wasn’t my own family present in the many pictures reviewed through tears. It was la familia Coraje who dominated the frames.

These fading pictures might as well be bats trapped in amber at this point. Worse, as the paper and chemicals are decomposing in these fragile albums, so are the ties that kept the Coraje bound to my uncle and his family.

We know time is not in big supply in this life, but los C can still turn this around. A mea culpa is not necessary. However, accountability should be on their minds. A show of respect would go a long way, as would an acknowledgment that my uncle was indeed “married” in the spiritual way to my aunt.

As hurt turns to anger turns to retribution, perhaps it is best we all retreat to our corners. Still, something tells me a bell will be rung one more time. Only then will we witness the KO punch that will end this chapter of “Los Hermanas Coraje.”

Hmm. There’s a good use for “Hey there!” followed by “You won’t believe what happens next!”

But truth be told, I realize this entire narrative is causing so much unnecessary pain. My uncle has already lost his soulmate! He doesn’t need to lose more family members through petty displays of poisonous manipulation. It’s so bad, he’s worried the Coraje shenanigans will add my family to the list of the departed.

Rest assured, dear uncle. We’re not going anywhere. Period.

Dammit. It is time for a truce, not pull focus from the devastating loss of my amazing aunt. And no, I don’t want to hear about Emails and other careless whispers delineating “secret meetings” with my already burdened uncle or references to my family as being “instigators,” either. That trick of playing the victim card is as tired as a bunch of aging nags on a barren field. If you aren’t happy with this record? Go to the source, you cowards!

By the way, when you do, it better be face to face. Don’t just send some bullshit text that starts off with “hey there.”

So, here’s a message to all for us: Live the lives you want. Just don’t confuse drama for happiness. (Thanks, Parks & Recreation for that profound truth.)

Wednesday, October 1. Written and posted from Wayne Ave. Manor.

“She’s Gone.” (9.29.14) — #thiswomanswork

“She’s Gone.”  (9.29.14) — #thiswomanswork

I still can’t process yesterday’s events.

Around 4pm on Sunday afternoon, I gave my aunt Susanna a little wave and she waved right back, even offering a trace of a smile. But she was in great pain. It just wasn’t a good day for her. Most times she would rally, and she’d be lucid, funny and fiercely specific.

By 11am on Monday, we were given the news she had passed away. Not even 24 hours.

That’s the simplicity of life and death.

It is safer and easier for me to retreat onto a blank page, but not so easy to fill this space. Is it enough to say that I feel too much? My aunt Susanna was fond of saying “I love you too much.” Is anything ever too much?

We have lost a woman who was more than an aunt to my siblings and I. She was our second mother.

I just know I wanted a little bit more time. We all wanted a little bit more time. Knowing someone you love is going to be gone soon offers little consolation. We were told “two weeks to two months.”

Susanna lived for us for one more week.

That’s all she could give. And we are forever grateful. She was a strong-willed woman. That strength is now passed on to us, her legacy.

My friend and colleague John wrote to me, “Too many strong, beautiful women have left us this year.”

He’s right.

As I drove to work this AM, one of my favorite songs, “This Woman’s Work” came on my iPod. Hearing Kate Bush’s lyrics interpreted and given a striking context by Maxwell gave my feelings a new landscape to roam. I cried, I sang, I felt and loved too much all over again.

I’m sure as these days lead up to her memorial and burial, we will continue to feel too much. Feel and love, because that’s all that matters right now.

Tuesday, September 30.

#SusannaCV


“This Woman’s Work”
Written by Kate Bush — Performed by Maxwell

Pray God you can cope.
I stand outside this woman’s work,
This woman’s world.
Ooh, it’s hard on the man,
Now his part is over.
Now starts the craft of the father.

I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.
I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.

I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking

Of all the things I should’ve said,
That I never said.
All the things we should’ve done,
That we never did.
All the things I should’ve given,
But I didn’t.

Oh, darling, make it go,
Make it go away.

Give me these moments back.
Give them back to me.
Give me that little kiss.
Give me your hand.

(I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.
I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.)

I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking

Of all the things we should’ve said,
That were never said.
All the things we should’ve done,
That we never did.
All the things that you needed from me.
All the things that you wanted for me.
All the things that I should’ve given,
But I didn’t.

Oh, darling, make it go away.
Just make it go away now.

“El día que mi padre me olvidó”/”The Day My Dad Forgot Me”

“El día que mi padre me olvidó”/”The Day My Dad Forgot Me”

Mi nombre es Jorge. En el barrio de mi nacimiento, todavía soy “George,” pero ya no me identifico come ese muchacho del ayer. Soy Jorge, pero no soy el original. Yo soy el segundo Jorge porque llevo ell nombre de mi padre. Mi madre quería llamarme Alejandro pero nací para llevar la marca de ser el primer hombre en una familia sencilla. El orgullo me nombró, no la poesía o el romance.

Llevar el nombre de mi padre tiene una gran responsabilidad. Como todas las cosas buenas, los griegos inventaron “Jorge.” Per mis padres Jorge y Lilia Carreón Ramirez crearon esta versión. El origen de mi nombre representa lo que es un granjero o una persona que cultiva la tierra. Ni siquiera puedo cuidar una planta. Sin embargo, esto me dirige a usar una metáfora. Las palabras son lo que yo cultivo porque soy periodista. Yo cuento las historias de personas que tú conoces para ver en la tele o leer en la Internet. Creo que eso me hace un granjero de los medios.

Siendo el segundo Jorge de mi familia es una historia diferente, una historia que no llevo a contar al mundo. Nunca pensé que mi padre y yo teníamos muchas características en común. Siempre estuvimos en una guerra de ideología. Ahora soy mayor y empiezo a darme cuenta de lo que tenemos en común. Como la mayoría de los hombres latinos, vivimos en nuestros recuerdos. Es como si fuéramos granjeros cultivando la tierra que da vida a nuestro´árbol genealógico.

Ahora mi padre está enfermo. Su mente está borrándose lentamente en una manera insidiosa. Un día no voy a ser el segundo Jorge, pero el primero. Es por eso que tengo que recordar todo relacionado con él y con nosotros. Porque ser Jorge es mas que compartir el mismo nombre de mi padre. Ser Jorge es vivir como el conservador de la historia de mi familia.

Porque anoche, al final de la fiesta de cumpleaños de mi hermana mayor, mi padre se olvidó de mi por la primera vez. Me dio su mano, como si yo fuera un desconocido, no su hijo mayor, no el que lleva su nombre. En ese momento, si cambio todo porque reconocí que sí, mi nombre contiene poesía y romance.

Porque llegó el día de ser Jorge el primero.

Domingo 28 de septiembre 2014. En mi casa en South Pasadena, CA


My name is Jorge. People still call me “George,” especially in the neighborhood where I grew up, located in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles. I’m Jorge, but I’m not the First. I am the Second Jorge because I carry my father’s name, a junior version. My mom wanted to name me “Alejandro,” but I was born to carry the name of our patriarch, the first boy born of immigrants in their new country. Pride named me, not a sense of poetry or romance.

To carry your father’s name is a huge responsibility. Like all good things on this earth, it was the Greeks who invented Jorge. But my parents, Jorge and Lilia Carreon Ramirez, created this version. The origin of my name is supposed to mean “farmer” or a person who cultivates the ground. I can’t even take care of a plant. Regardless, this does lead me to use a metaphor. I cultivate words and images because I am a journalist. I tell the stories about people you know to watch on TV or read on the Internet. Maybe that makes me a farmer with the media as my expanse of land to nurture?

Being Jorge the Second is a different story, one I never intended to tell to the world. Not really. Yet reasons exist why I can admit that I never thought my father and I had much in common. We were always locked in a battle of ideology. Now that I am older, I see what we do share and it is more than the name. Like all Latino men, we live in our memories. It is as if we are a special brand of cultivators, tasked with the preservation of our family trees.

My father has Alzheimer’s. His mind is slowly being erased in the most insidious manner. Since the day he was diagnosed, I knew that at some point I would no longer be Jorge the Second, but the First. That is why I have to record all that is Us before his files are completely emptied of data.

Because being Jorge is not just sharing the same name.

Being Jorge is living as the chief chronicler of my family.

Because last night, at the end of my older sister’s birthday party, my father forgot who I was to him.

He offered me his hand to shake, smiling and saying “It was nice meeting you.” Sure, it was a polite and friendly gesture. He meant it. That was the version of Jorge for when he met people he liked. But it was more than that, because I recognized that my name does carry poetry and romance.

Last night, I became Jorge the First.

Sunday, September 28. Posted in Spanish and English from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA