Alternative Service Breaks

During spring break I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer in New Orleans, Louisiana. The city is so full of history and no matter where you are, the atmosphere changes quickly. You could be walking down the nicest street and all of sudden you see beautiful buildings torn apart. This city has been through more than you would ever know. It’s easy to get caught up in glamour of volunteering, taking pictures and showing people what you’re doing but that’s all smoke and mirrors. Once you hear the stories and realize why you’re there, the glamour goes away and you appreciate what you have and what you’re doing.

My first day, I learned that the public school system had failed and there was only charter schools. The buildings of public schools still remain… empty. Since the recent tornado that ripped through the city, a charter school was temporarily moved to an old public school building. We made posters for the children, with their school name, mascot, and colors. The children saw us making these posters and immediately their eyes became wide with joy, they had posters of their school within a school that wasn’t theirs. The children joy was enough, but the teachers were so appreciative to see some color in their life

The second day, my favorite, we went to Apex Youth Center. The building was old, but it was coming along. We did small maintenance around the building, clean the kitchen, bathrooms, and windows. My writing alone cannot tell you the story behind that youth center. It’s been there for 9 years, but there is so much passion, love, history, and care put into that building. These two amazing couple who run everything themselves, left everything to live in “the hood” to provide for those who can’t provide for themselves. The couple offers a second home to the youth up to young adults. The stories that were told will break you heart and are so personal that I cannot share them but just know this couple would stop everything that their doing, just to rescue someone.

They run everything themselves, they are a two people staff that fight to keep that building alive. They teach the youth that it’s okay to be expression and that every voice matters. They occasionally have volunteers come to host programs like yoga or music class. Everything is based off donations or what the couple can come by. Seeing the growth of that youth center makes me want to come back and open up opportunities for new learning experiences.

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Life Isn’t a Competition

I miss having someone to talk to. I miss the feeling of having an open space to vent. I can’t even say that I’m on 4 hours of sleep without someone else saying that they had less sleep. Why is everyone trying to one up each other? We all get it, the world sucks. Why do you have to prove that your life is 1 teaspoon more miserable? My only way of venting now is writing these blogs once a month. If I try to talk to my friends, they immediately start telling me how much worse they think they have it. It shuts me up because it makes me feel that my problems are insignificant and no one cares about them so I shouldn’t either. I hate that. It makes me feel terrible about myself and it makes me go into a depression. Jeez, why can’t I tell that to my counselor? Even with that, I’ve slowly started telling other people that I’ve been getting help and their immediate answers are “why, you’re life doesn’t seem that bad?” It makes me want to yell at them and say that they don’t even know because they don’t ever listen to me.

A person should never feel that they can’t express themselves and I hate that I let people do that to me. A person should never feel that their problems are insignificant because everyone has problems and we should be willing to listen to everyone and comfort them, not one up them. I completely understand that there is others that do have worse days than me and that’s fine but let me rant and I’ll let you rant.

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What Gives?

About a year ago, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next with my life. Now, a year later, it would appear as if I’m in the same position. If I asked some, they’d say it was time for me to be a wife. And honestly, a part of me thinks that’d make a beautiful addition to my life. Which, I’ve built, partially, to be something worth looking at, something to envy. And partially, that’s a lie, because I know I’d be nowhere if God wasn’t using me.

I try to be someone who’s passionate in all they do and friendly. I don’t want to step on the people around me in order to win some kind of trophy. A trophy that represents success and honor, safety and security. Not the kind of trophy you place on your mantel or Facebook, no. The kind of trophy that a lot of people can feel, in the form of an adjacent serenity. They like to be around you because you exude this sort of soft glow.

That’s what I thought I wanted. I can see that shade looking good on my cheeks. Though, I didn’t know how much is costs until the debt collectors taunted. They’d knock on my door, in my email, and be on the phone for weeks. When you have something different, you’re now suddenly of interest to people who previously avoided you like a bad smell. They might think you don’t notice but there’s actually a big tell.

Try asking one of these people, what gives? Why are you hanging around when you previously were too busy to care? They’ll either come straight out and provide you with some great explanation of how “you’ll have to forgive, but you’re really just someone who gives off great air.” Or they’ll scoot around the answer and say, ”I was just trying to be nice but hey, if you don’t want me around, I’ll just leave!” And then it’ll be up to you to do whatever you believe.

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Thanks for Everything, To Wong Foo

AND WHERE IS THE BODY…

It is almost inconceivable to believe that it has already been almost 22 years since John Leguizamo, Wesley Snipes and the late Patrick Swayze introduced the world to the irrepressible and legendary drag queens, Vida Boheme (of the Manhattan Bohemes), Noxeema Jackson (Jesse’s daughter) and Chi Chi Rodriguez (the Latina Marilyn Monroe)! In 1995, “To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything – Julie Newmar” graced the screens of major theaters across the country to mixed reviews and moderate box office success. However since its release, it has become a cult classic to so many across the world and it has become a must-watch for drag aficionados. “To Wong Foo” follows Vida, Noxeema and Chi Chi on a whirlwind roadtrip from New York to Hollywood to compete for the ‘Drag Queen of the Year’ crown. And when their car break down in the small town in the middle of nowhere and they end up having to spending a couple nights in said town, the town begins to embrace the new strangers and allow their town to be transformed by them.

I remember being in a small town and going to the theater to see this film when it first came out. I can recall seeing these men who epitomized masculinity at the time transform into smart, sassy and beautiful creatures before my very eyes during the opening credits and I was instantly mesmerized by their seemingly flawless metamorphoses. As a quirky 11 year old who knew that he was particularly different, I intently watched the queens’ adventures unfold and the film quickly became more than just a funny and campy movie; it became a guide on living ‘the outrageous outlook and abdominal spirit that it would take to make you a full fledged queen.’

The lessons this movie has taught me have helped me through so many moments in my life, whether it was the nurturing kindness of Vida, the headstrong attitude of Noxeema or the audacious tenacity of Chi Chi. Each one of the main characters possess qualities to be admired and honored. Their bravery and integrity to face the world in full face and grace are enough to consider them superheroes. Including the legendary “4 steps to becoming a queen”, here are my takeaways from the film and feel free to share your experiences and thoughts as well!!!

“Noxeema, we must all help others.”

As Vida and Noxeema tie the pageant and attempting to console a devastated Chi Chi, Vida proceeds to remind Noxeema of a time when she was helped by Vida and how that journey brought the success she was currently enjoying. Vida’s speech on the importance of kindness and community shaped a great deal of how I approach those who may be more dire straits than myself. We are all in this together and no one makes it on their own. And how bland would our lives be without the line, “Little latin boy in drag, why are you crying?!”

“We must take this message from Miss Newmar across the land with us as our sovereign token.”

After deciding to drive cross country so they can take Chi Chi along with them to Hollywood, Vida stumbles upon a black and white photograph of Julie Newmar during the height of the fame as ‘Catwoman’ and finds inspiration in the picture. Sometimes when you have a major goal or dream you are trying to realize, it helps to have something to keep you motivated and focused. Maybe a sovereign token would have helped Naomi Campbell become more beautiful than Noxeema!

“Vida gave all of this up to be Vida”

As our three heroines make their way across the country, they come across Vida’s hometown. In one pivotal, silent yet powerful moment, it is eluded that Vida faced a harsh and painful reality that so many LGBT+ people face when coming out, excommunication and exile from their families. Not only does particular that scene make you admire Vida’s courage and integrity but it teaches that your loyalty to yourself will always be worth more than your loyalty to anyone else.

“Maybe I’m not just a boy in a dress…”

After being read for filth on her lack of experience in being a drag queen by Noxeema, the duchess of protocol, Chi Chi tries to dismiss herself in spite before Vida convinces her to stay by giving her the title of a ‘drag princess’. The beauty of this moment in Chi Chi’s stubbornness to see herself as something more than her peers perceived. She refused to deny the specialness she possessed in the face of judgment. She even reinvented how to spell ‘princess’; “P to the R to the N to the S”!

“Step 1 to becoming a queen: let good thoughts be your sword and shield.”

After saying a prayer of gratitude and guidance, Noxeema applauds and affirms Chi Chi for putting positive energy into the universe. The truth is that God, the universe, the Source, etc. is always listening and if you put positive energy out there, it is bound to come back to you. The basic law of attraction: the ultimate accessory!

“Get with the program, mijas! No one is so rich as to throw away a friend!”

Once the ladies stop to consider a place to stay for the night, Chi Chi takes it upon herself to figure out their lodging situation against Vida’s instructions. But they end up staying at a hotel that is hosting a women’s basketball tournament. They blend themselves in with the taller, more muscular women and they play with them. You never know who you are going to meet or, more importantly, who you will need on any given day so it pays to be nice to everyone you meet.

“Step 2 to becoming a queen: ignore adversity.”

Chi Chi reached her second milestone to utter fabulousness after helping her fellow queens hustle their way into a free hotel stay, the big takeaway being to find a way to make things work, even if it may seem unforeseeable.

“Operation decorator storm”

At this point, our queens have left an unconscious policeman on the side of the road after he tried to have his way with Miss Vida and their car has broken down at a rest stop, forcing them to spend the weekend in the sleepy, small town of Snydersville. So to make their hotel room feel more like home, they take some of their shiny belongings and redecorate the whole place to match their glamorous inhabitants. The lesson here? Make yourself at home wherever you are.

“Well conversely, some men need to be hit back.”

Staying at Virgil and Carol-Ann’s hotel, the queens, particularly Vida, have noticed Virgil’s abusive treatment of Carol-Ann. After the queens themselves finish arguing, Vida steps in and confronts Virgil about his behavior which doesn’t bode well for him. It makes the strong statement about the importance of standing up for others when they are unable or unaware of how to stand up for themselves. And thankfully, Miss Vida works out. Alot!

“Absolutely Step 3: abide by the rules of love.”

The ever-so thirsty Chi Chi finds herself making a connection with one of the locals, knowing that he is involved with another woman in town. But her conscious convicts her to rethink things and she willingly steps out of the two locals’ way to let them be together. It proved that the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing to do but it is always worth it in the end. And it never pays to play games with people’s’ hearts and minds.

“Forgiven?” “Forgiven.”

After getting into a heated argument earlier, Chi Chi and Vida humbly offer heartfelt apologies for the horrible things they said. It is proof that anytime anyone eats humble pie in front of you, it always best to share a slice.

“I am going to make Hollywood wherever I am at.”

After the entire town stands up for the queens against the unconscious policeman from earlier who had been trying to hunt them down, Noxeema realizes how right Vida was about taking chances on trusting people. She also realizes that it is not a place that makes you feel special but the joy you bring to yourself that makes you feel special.

“My name is Miss Vida Boheme and your approval is not needed but I will take your acceptance.”

It is rather that Vida is amazing at standing up for others but the one person she wasn’t standing up for was Miss Vida. And with the support of her fellow travelers, she makes plans to confront her past and give her family a chance to accept her as is. This is easily the most powerful moment of the movie because it shows every person who has been ostracized or outcasted by someone they love and trusted how to stand up to those individuals with compassion and grace.

“Step 4: larger than life is just the right size!”

The queens make it Hollywood! And with Vida and Noxeema’s ingenue accepting the ‘Drag Queen of the Year’ crown from Miss Julie Newmar herself! The running theme of the entire film is encapsulated in the fourth step. No matter what how many people are telling you that you’re too ‘extra’, you are exactly who you are supposed to be.

This movie has stood the test of time for good reason. Its life lessons and one-liners are just as relevant as they were over 22 years ago. The characters are lush, powerful and relatable in both their imperfections and redemptions. They are archetypes that rival the ‘Sex and the City’ ladies and the ‘Golden Girls’. May we all be as kind and nurturing as Vida, vivacious and strong as Noxeema and saucy and resilient as Chi Chi!

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Unplanned

Writing something this month was a bit of a struggle because I have always been the kind of person with a plan and now I’m struggling with an unknown but totally debilitating chronic illness.

You know the friend that plans every activity and needs to know what restaurant, at what time and even what your wearing the week before you hangout? Yeah, I’m that friend.

I always knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life and until now always believed anything was possible. While other students worried about picking the right school or declaring a major I already knew where I was going and what I wanted to do. For my whole life, I have always been one step ahead and before I graduated I already had a scholarship for my next school. When I left university, I had a great job set up and even if I was struggling with school or work, it was something to get through until I got to the part of my plan when everything would be perfect. I would be a teacher and I would travel and see the world and maybe even get married and have kids one day.

Now I am sick.

At 27 years old I don’t have a plan and in many ways that’s the scariest thing I have ever had to face. I can’t plan my future because I don’t if I have one yet and that’s a scary thought but what’s even scarier is the idea of having a future. What if I can’t have the life I planned when I was 7 years old? Learning to let go and not trying to plan every outcome is probably going to be far scarier than anything thing my doctors find. The 25 pills a day, 20 doctors a month, and countless tests is the easy part. It’s the making plans when you don’t know how you will feel that day and your friends all have lives. The explaining to people over and over again that after you got your master degree you became too sick for a job and moved back in with my parents part that’s so soul crushing. For now I guess I have to take comfort in the predictable parts of my life.

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