Sila’s Gift

Time, heartbreak, and Christmas.

Yesterday, I went to a Creative Mornings event to hear Natalia Martinez-Kalinina speak about time. She explained how phrases like, “Time heals all wounds,” or  “Only time will tell tell,” are tokens that give us the illusion that we can control time.  We have named it, measured it, manipulated it, and even tricked it but it remains as incontrollable and illusive as ever. In my case, there will never be enough time to heal the sorrow I feel since my beautiful mother suddenly and without warning passed away. Only today did I realize that I may never be “ready” to accept the waves of emotion that surface when I hear flamenco songs, drive home from work, try to fall asleep, smell incense burning, or see white roses in bloom.

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Sila at Christmas

My mother, Sila Amelia Montoto, absolutely loved this cheerful season of the year. The celebrations,  acts of kindness, and the spirit of giving were all traits she embraced. Both her heart and mind were open and accepting beyond reason. She loved cooking elaborate feasts of turkey, black beans, mashed potatoes, and flan for family or lonely souls she had met just the day before. She loved watching Christmas movies but hated musicals.

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Christmas, circa. 1990

“You made this when you were in 1st grade,” she would say every year as she handed me a glittery pinecone to hang on our tree. She would sing “Santa’s Coming to Town” the whole year. It didn’t matter if it was boiling or freezing or even what season it was. She would sing it to us before we went to bed or hum it to herself while she was cooking. I can’t see a Christmas light or presents stacked in store-front windows without thinking of her smiles or busy hands. Without a doubt, this has been the most difficult Christmas for me to enjoy or appreciate.

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Bows and Paper

Although it is hard to confront such colossal emotions, I knew I needed to find a vessel to explore them. Thankfully, she left me one. Shortly after my mom passed, I found a folder with some pages she wrote. At first glance, I realized that the type-written pages were the beginning of a novel she had always wanted to write. The pages are filled with memories inspired by her childhood in Cuba. Till now, I have not been brave enough to read them.

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England, circa. 1991

At the same time, the pages have been weighing on my conscience. Questions like,  “Is it fair to keep these pages to myself?” or “Am I strong enough to read them?” were plaguing me.  In the end, I’m resolved to publish her work through this blog in a series of posts about my mother. It was her dream to publish her stories and she would have loved to have all of you read them. Sila was as unique as her name. She was so dynamic and impressionable a person, that to spend only one entry or to tell only one story would not be nearly suffice.

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New Mexico, circa. 1996

This will be a series of  Christmas presents for all of you who were lucky enough to have met her or for those who haven’t to get to know her. Before I let her start, I wanted to say how grateful i am for all incredible support my family has received through hugs, cards, company, and the gofundme. Your kind words and acts gave me strength during my darkest days.

 

Leaving the Finca + Changing Lives II

 

The nightmare started. The horrible reality came so unexpectedly shattering the world we loved, all the familiar things, putting a feeling of emptiness inside you… A feeling of loss, like when some one you love dies or goes away. Nothing is ever the same without them. like that tonight. 

Mamá came into our room. She woke me and asked me to dress quickly. She picked up Jose still in nightclothes and quietly walked out of the room. Mamá was crying silent tears. I know those tears so well. We must hurry, I know. I stand in the middle of my room and look around trying to remember everything. Knowing that I may not touch or feel my dolls, my funny clown with the faded nose, or my ballerina. She is so graceful in her pink and lovely gown… Then I remember to look under my pillow. I must take my medallion with me. Abuela gave i to me. It’s Santa Teresa. She brings me good luck. I like to take my medallion everywhere I go. It makes me feel safe. 

The jeep waits outside. I am cold although it is rather warm. Papa is not here. Where are you papa? I want you close. I know you will not let them hurt us. Mamá sits quietly still holding little Jose close. He does not understand what is happening. We are going to “Abuela’s house,” that’s all. Miguel drives the jeep in silence, occasionally wiping his face. I know Miguel is sad. We have lived in the finca for so long. He will miss us. I will miss him. I am so sad. I think I could stop breathing, but I will not. I cannot. I close my eyes and pretend I am having a dream.

“Tomorrow will be another day,” my Abuela always says. “We cannot keep days from starting. Each day, each sunrise is different. With every sunrise, we know we have made it through one more day. There is that quiet place inside. We must find it when we want to stop breathing… and breathe again.”

We are coming into the town. It is very quiet, it is late. Everything is dark. The lights are shut off early now.There is not enough electricity for the future. We have to safe and be wise and responsible. We must think of the future. It is the most important thing. That is why the lights go off so early. All is dark as we drive by. No one can sit in froth of their T.V.s or listen to the radio, except twice a week. We live in the country. That makes it a little different. 

Miguel stops the jeep in front of “El Cuartel.” he has good cigars with him. He will offer some to the compañeros. They will talk a bit. He will laugh and tell them how the gusanos lost the finca. How right it is. Our family has been greed and taken advantage of all the poor in the town for so long. It is not right.  It is time to be just, and thanks to “El Comandante en jefe,” everyone is the same now. We hear their laughter, we wait in the jeep, Mamá, Jose and I. It is late. I am sleep. I am sad. I know what Miguel is doing. He is “pretending.” His “other” voice is talking now. He must pretend for the compañeros. He must make sure we are safe.  

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Vue of the Front

My first day in New Orleans, I walked for miles…

Before I dive into it, I know I promised the next few posts would be about Coconut Grove but my trip to New Orleans is so fresh on my mind that I couldn’t resist. This week, the post below was featured on Fresh Art International, a blog written and narrated by the inspirational, Cathy Byrd.  The post is about an art collective called The Front of which my dear friend and equally incredible artist, Cristina Molina, is a part of. Another post unfolding my NOLA adventure will follow soon.  So be sure to check back.

Cristina Molina, artwork pictured on the left.

Cristina Molina, artwork pictured on the left.

Article as it appears on Fresh Art International:

Miami based novelist Maria Trujillo contributes this Fresh VUE feature. Her inspiration? An independent artist collective in New Orleans.

My first day in New Orleans, I walked for miles. Several blocks into my expedition, the seasoned city reaffirmed one of my culture mantras: For better or worse, with hardship comes inspiration. Creative minds merge to dissect problems and realize solutions—whether it be recovering from the devastation of a hurricane or forging a path for contemporary art. The Front artist collective is no exception. Their not-for-profit space wraps around the corner of St. Claude Ave. and Manzant St. in the quarter known as the Bywater. Behind the group’s humble façade, there are four galleries cleverly curated to show the work of the 18 artists in the collective.

The Front Door - Photo Cred. Jonathan Traviesa

The Front Door – Photo Cred. Jonathan Traviesa

The creatives behind the gallery bring to mind the many manifestos of art history’s past in that, by uniting, they are cultivating new and experimental work. Within their exhibition space, the Front exposes local contemporary art that stands apart from work seen in major art fairs. The Front’s grass-roots moxie echoes the independent spirit that so many love about New Orleans. An equally engaging characteristic is their open and inclusive attitude. Many of the shows include the work of artists that are not part of their collective, but whose philosophies or investigations align with theirs. The Front’s refreshing attitude has gained them notice and helped extend their reach as far as Japan. No doubt, their gallery, lectures, performances, and screenings are a growing asset to the New Orleans contemporary art scene. If you find yourself on the Prospect.3 route this fall, take time to stop by and see for yourself the inspiring dynamic of this creative space.

Internet in South Korea

Across the seas.

When my brother moved to South Korea, I barely heard from him. I thought, “Maybe it’s hard to get internet over there,” or “Internet might be really expensive.” It turns out that his procrastination and/or laziness were to blame. Yet, I am happy to report that he finally bit the bullet and joined the cyberworld.

Internet or not internet, I wish there was a word that better describes the feeling of missing someone. We need a word for that. I usually get waves of that forlorn feeling when I think of a clever joke, want extra cheesy mac ‘n’ cheese, listen to a certain melancholic melody, or just want to talk in circles around the same idea… That’s when I miss my brother the most. I think of him across the seas, and I can’t help but smile at his bravery. So this is me tipping my hat off to John A. Trujillo for being a true explorer, and an official badass.

John

We moved around a lot growing up because my Dad was in the U.S Air Force. As military brats and third culture kids we packed our bags, flew off to another country, and struggled to make new lives and friends on another patch of Earth. Most of these “fresh starts” were in South or Central America, so we were never forced to move somewhere completely out of our Spanish-speaking comfort zone. When we relocated back to the U.S in 2005, culture shock set in.

Not being able to get in anywhere past 10pm or roam aimlessly through old cities was hard. Worse yet was the thought of staying in one place for the unforeseeable future. Even now, after a couple of years in one place, my soul feels restless. Occasionally, I pull up Google Maps and try to plot new adventures or concoct semi-rational plans that involve moving to another spot on the globe. I think that’s how my sisters and brother feel too. The difference is, he did it.

I’m sort of ashamed to say how I first reacted when John told me he was thinking of moving to South Korea. For serendipitous reasons, John and I hadn’t really been apart for more than a couple of months at a time. So the thought of him moving so far seemed pretty lame to me. My immediate reaction was to list all the potential obstacles and terrible scenarios. Words can barely scratch the surface of how glad I am that he totally ignored everything I said.

“We need the tonic of wildness… ” —Henry David Thoreau

Last February, he quit his job and moved to South Korea to teach English in small town to children of all ages. Not only does he have to come up with plans to engage toddlers and teenagers but he’s learning Korean, and studying to apply to architecture school. When I don’t feel much like researching or am hesitant about something, I think of him and am constantly inspired by his courage and perseverance.

Old Meets New

Although I am a self-proclaimed explorer, I don’t really deserve the title, he does. He’ll most likely be in South Korea for another year and a half. Short of hanging out with him, I couldn’t be happier that he is having such an epic adventure and doing it so well. Whether he is helping old ladies carry their groceries, teaching kids English, or dancing on stage at an MIA concert, he’s braving cultural divides. If your own journey  takes you to South Korea you should contact him, he’s one of the raddest people you will ever meet. Scout’s honor.

Filomena

Today, June 25th, is an extraordinary woman’s 101st birthday.

Since her husband Manuel died a few years ago, Filomena has rallied her optimism and thrown a birthday reunion every June. The party is to celebrate her life, but it’s also to celebrate her family. Some of us are not lucky enough to boast the incredibly harmonious and large family she has nurtured. Just as she knits several pairs of socks each day, she has also woven bonds between her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Filomena

Her presence and wise words truly feel like gifts, but they are much more than that. As is with most wise people, she has weathered memories both beautiful and difficult. She has witnessed power shifts between Alfonso XIII, The Second Republic of Spain, The Spanish Civil War, Francisco Franco, and the Spanish transition to democracy. Her resilience and nine children carried her through each hardship, and helped her appreciate each joy. Today, she still enjoys fútbol, reading, knitting, and welcoming visitors.

This coming Saturday, a restaurant in Terrassa (a city about half an hour away from Barcelona) will be hosting a jubilant Filomena and her happy brood of 50 plus people. They will eat delicious food, and share better stories about this wonderful woman and the lives she made possible. Although my husband and I cannot join her celebration this year, we were there for her 100th birthday bash. It was a beautiful experience, and it gave me pause to reflect on old age and attitude. One of the most repeated conversations was, “how did she make it to the age of 100 years old?” And, what’s more, “with her mind and body very much intact?” Almost everyone had their own opinion but the person whose opinion I like best is Trinidad’s (my husband’s other grandmother): “By working very hard, being very passionate, and caring very much for those she loves.”

Although I am just a recent addition to her family, this post is my humble tribute to this inspiring woman.

Happy birthday Filomena.