A year ago, my cousin, Nina, would never have imagined that she would be raising her son and daughter alone. But it’s the sad reality that she faces now. On September 28, 2016, she unexpectedly lost Will, the man she loved and been with for 9 years. Before this, everything seemed to be going in their favor; they got back together and were expecting their second child, they moved into the top level of the house Nina grew up in, and they were finally a family again after some time apart. Their lives drastically changed when Will passed away, leaving her with a son that was almost 5 years old, and a 2 month old baby girl.
The day after Will’s 1 year death anniversary, Nina decided to get a tattoo in honor of him. Before he passed away, Will wanted his next tattoo to be an infinity sign. When he brought it up she told him that she also wanted it too, and that they should get the tattoo together instead of him buying her an engagement ring.
“I told him, ‘I don’t want a real ring, I’d rather [we] have a house, and then we can just get tats on our ring fingers.’ That’s more permanent than a diamond ring,” she said matter of factly.
So I went with her to get her infinity tattoo, and she wanted to incorporate what seemed like 10 other ideas into it. With great thought, Nina decided to keep the tattoo simple, and stuck to the infinity sign with a music note that Will had tattooed on his hand. Music was Will’s passion, and she wanted to capture that in her tattoo for him.
It’s crazy to think that it has really been a year since Will passed away. And in this past year, I’ve witnessed my cousin change. She admits that she finds herself more antisocial, not wanting people to see her or be around others. She explains how even when she is out with friends, she’s not engaged in any of the conversations that they’re having, and her mind is in a thousand different places. After 2 hours of hanging out, she just wants to go home to her babies and call it a day.
Nina tries to keep herself busy to keep her mind off of the fact that Will isn’t here anymore. When she has too much free time, she’ll replay memories from the past and just overwhelm herself with too many emotions.
“What makes me cry the most is the fact that he’s not here to help me with the kids,” she says frustrated. “It makes me mad that he couldn’t stay here to help me and help raise them.”
And when she starts to overthink, she is met with the same feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt. Before Will passed away, and while she was pregnant with Nalia, they were running into financial issues, causing them to fight. The fighting didn’t stop when Nalia was born, and Nina never got to make up with Will again because he passed away shortly after. The overwhelming feeling of guilt takes over her when she remembers how they didn’t talk before he passed. It’s one thing to know that the person you love is no longer here, but it’s another thing to replay in your head what you wish you could’ve said. Nina feels guilty knowing that she’s living a “comfortable” life because he did pass away. When Will was alive, they worried about financial costs, but now that he passed, she’s not in that position anymore. She feels guilty that it took him dying to be in a place where she’s financially stable.
“I wish I could go travel with the kids because [now] I can,” she says looking straight ahead, as we’re parked in the parking lot of Nalia’s daycare. “….But it’s like… who am I going to travel with… and to share these memories with?”
She reassures herself that things could have been worse, and as bad as it sounds, this probably had to happen. This situation has forced Nina to rely on her mom more than she wants to. And though they disagree, she knows that if Will was still to be alive, it would be another situation with him. It’s one of those moments where you look at all the alternate realities that could’ve happened and realize, either way you look at it, you would’ve been put in a shitty situation regardless.
“I always think, ‘well, maybe this is God’s way of telling me I should appreciate my mom, and accept her for who she is and the type of person she is,” she says. “It’s hella funny because Will would always say that I act exactly like my mom. And I hella see it.”
She wishes that Will could’ve realized what they had. Nina believes that he knew what they had, and knew they had practically everything they wanted, from a house, a family, jobs, and pretty much everything was set in stone. But he didn’t know how to handle it. She knows that he grew up having nothing, and for him to have everything, he didn’t know how to deal with it. Nina knows that deep down Will didn’t think that he deserved all the good things happening in their lives. He had a lot of responsibility on his plate. They were expecting their 2nd child, his 3rd. He had to provide for my cousin and his 3 children. And she knows how much of a hard worker he was and how he would stress over providing for his family.
“I just wish that I could’ve just told him, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ ” she says. “But instead I was always mad. I would always be like, ‘what is wrong with him?!’ ”
She worries for my nephew, Tre, because he is a carbon copy of his father. She prays that Tre finds his way, because she genuinely doesn’t know what to do when he acts up in school. Nina says that he acts exactly like Will, and that’s why she’s even more scared for him. She wishes that Will was still around to help raise Tre, because since they’re so alike, he would know what to do to get through to him.
Since Nalia was only 2 months old when Will passed away, Nina always wonders what he would think of her if he was still alive. A couple months ago, Nalia turned 1. It’s one of those bittersweet moments that you realize she’s only getting older, and will only know of her father by stories and the few pictures they have together.
“Every time I stare at Nalia I’m just like, ‘what would Will say about her?’ ” she said. “Would he think she’s funny? … I always just look at her like, ‘what would he think about you?’ ”
Of course she knows that dating again is somewhere in her future, but she doesn’t like the thought of starting all over with someone else. She worries that a future partner can be detrimental to the children, and overall just thinking the worst. She realized that she’s probably going to worry for her children and their well being for the rest of her life. And that’s something she despises about herself.
“If anything, this past year has made me realize what type of person I don’t want to be, but still am. ”
When I asked how she’ll tell the kids about how Will passed, she said she’d be honest with them and tell them the truth. Tre already knows that his dad was “sick,” but that he loved him a lot. Will always believed in not sugar coating the truth to his children, so that’s how she’ll continue to raise them. Tre and Nalia will know the truth, but will also know that their dad loved them and did what he could for them.
Though she hasn’t had many dreams of Will, the dream she holds dearest to her is the dream she had of him holding her hand. She loved his hands. She loved how they were that of a hard working man, but his palms were smooth and soft. In a way she believes that that’s Will’s way of saying that he’s still holding her hand through life.
“Infinity is forever,” she said. “He’s forever going to be in my heart.”
July 12, 2017 :
This day was a rough one. It was the 10 year death anniversary of my grandma, “Mama,” and it hit me hard that it has really been a decade without her.
I remembered early in the morning what day it was, but it really hit me at night. My boyfriend, Christian, was at work, so I was watching Netflix at his apartment waiting for him to get off. I remembered again that it was my Mama’s death anniversary, and as the room started to dim with night time approaching, I decided to face what I was feeling head on.
You see, on her other death anniversaries, I would get a little sad, but wouldn’t get too sad because I know she no longer suffers from her Diabetes and is in a better place, along with her son and my grandpa, Tatay Celso.
But this anniversary was different. It’s one of those milestone years where you’re like… shit, it’s really been that long? Sitting in the dark and turning Netflix off, I played the song my cousins and I danced to at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary party. The song is called “Tanging Yaman.” I remember my cousins and I practicing outside of Mama’s house, the waltz-like dance we had to perform infront of our family and family friends. It was a surprise party for my grandparents, but close to the date of the party, they were both admitted into the hospital for different health reasons. At that point my family had to continue with the party, with or without my grandparents present, because all the invitations were out and it was too close to the date to cancel. We thought we’d be performing for no one. I mean, the whole crowd of those invited would see, but not the 2 people that mattered. My Mama ended up being able to go to the party, and although we were sad that our Tatay Celso was still in the hospital, we were glad that atleast one of them got to make it to the party.
“Ikaw Ang aking, tanging yaman… (‘You are my greatest treasure’),” the song played on. All of a sudden I’m in tears, sad and angry. It’s really been 10 years?! I texted this to my group chat with my sisters:
I was getting angry at myself for not remembering as much as I used to. I stayed at Mama’s house 6 days out of the week. Everyday afterschool, my sisters, cousins, and I would walk across the street to Mama’s house and wait for my uncle or my mom to pick us up after they got off work. And every Sunday everyone was at Mama’s house after church. It was like a party every Sunday.
And now here I was, crying in the dark because it was such a big chunk of my life, and now I feel like I don’t remember as much as I should. It made me feel some type of way knowing that from here on out, I’m probably going to remember less and less as I get older. And I hate it. I mean it’s not like I don’t remember anything. I always joke around that my memory is so sharp that it’s almost annoying. But the normal thing of: as time goes on the memories fade a little more, especially since I was like 12 when she passed away.
Christian came back home and greeted me as he walked in.
“Whatsup,” he said.
“I’m being emo,” I said hiding in the covers in complete darkness.
But then I started telling Christian about my grandma who he’ll never meet. And retelling the stories made me feel better. Like the time I was 5 years old and everyone thought I got kidnapped. Mama’s house was right across the street from my school’s church. On a Sunday while the whole family was over her house, Mama walked out of the house in her white lace veil and Rosary. For some reason I was playing on the stairs outside by myself. She asked me if I wanted to go to church with her, and I said yeah. I made the mistake of not letting anyone inside know that I was going with her. I remember being happy that I was going to church with Mama and it was just us 2. But I also remember sitting in the church aisle and staring at the people sitting behind us, and looking at one of the church door open seeing my mom frantically trying to find me calling my name. I have no idea what happened after that 😂😂😂. I remember asking my mom if it was just a dream or if it actually happened in real life, and she looked at me like “no, bitch, that really happened and we really thought you got kidnapped!” 😂😂😂
Or the times my Tatay Celso would drive me and my little sister to pick up Mama from Dialysis, and I would hold her arm and help her walk back into the car. Little pudgy 5 year old me would get so giddy when I heard one of the people working at the Dialysis tell Mama, “oh your granddaughter is a big help!”
Mama would tell me, “Sunog, get food for the Santo Niño,” all of this would be in Tagalog of course. “Sunog” was my nickname, which means “burned/burns” because of the burn scars I have on my left arm. Anything Mama would ask me to do, I would do it. Putting little food offerings infront of her statues of Santo Niño and Mary was something she would do herself, but as time passed and her health declining, I was happy to do it for her.
On her death anniversaries, I try to remember the good. And honestly sometimes I try not to remember because I get upset when I remember I didn’t have a chance to say my goodbyes. My parents didn’t want my sisters & I to be present, so us 3 stayed at home while my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins said their goodbyes at the hospital. My parents didn’t want us to see her like that and I understand their decision. But sometimes I wonder if she noticed we weren’t there.
This post took me a span of a week and a half to write because I kept stopping. I didn’t know how to put what I felt into words. I try to end most of my posts on a positive note or have a resolution for whatever issue I’m talking about. But in this case, there is no resolution. No matter how much I try to focus on the positive, the truth is: time will still pass. And as much as i hate it, time will go on I’ll remember less and less. And there’s nothing more I can do to remember things I’ve already forgotten. But sharing a little of what I remember makes me feel better.
I never got to say my goodbyes, but I would say it in my head all the time. I pray that she’s still around during family get togethers and that she watches over us, which I know she does.
Until we meet again
Totally forced him to get on the camera with me…but I figured he’d be the perfect person to appear with me in this video, since he is always the one to hear my rants about how infuriating it is to see altered images in the media!
Alex “Lex” Hui has been in a few dangerous situations while working as a Go-go dancer in The Castro. He has been chased by a stalker after a nightclub event, and had to escape by climbing a fence that resulted in cuts all over his body. But what is Hui most afraid of?
Aging. Hui has been professionally dancing since he was 18, and will be 40 this summer. Hui loves his job as a Go-go dancer because it keeps him feeling young, healthy, and alive. With his birthday nearing, Hui is dreading the thought of being another year older.
“At the party store I came across the 40 decorations,” Hui said. “I couldn’t even touch it. I don’t want to accept it.”
Hui has been dancing for over 20 years and has thought about retiring his dancing shoes a couple of times. But he is hesitant to give up the job that has made him the person that he is today. For it was dancing that made Hui come to terms with who he really is, and started to live his life according to his truest self.
With his petite stature, standing at about 5’5, Hui is always noticeable in a crowd because of his “I’m here!” attitude. His black hair is combed over to the left side, and he is almost always wearing form fitting clothing that shows off his arm and leg muscles that he works so hard for.
Growing up, Hui was confused about his sexuality. Though it is hard to believe now, since he is such a friendly, talkative, and bubbly person, Hui was once a shy person who kept to himself. He was unsure as to who he was, and wanted to be like his male buddies. At the same time knew he felt different than them.
Hui’s family on the other hand knew all his life that he is gay. It was kept hush hush, but everyone was aware. In fact, Hui never officially “came out” to his family.
When he was 18, Hui felt more comfortable and started going to gay nightclubs. He was approached by the club manager, who told him that he would be perfect for a dancing job. And that was how Hui got introduced to dancing at nightclubs, bars, and events.
At first Hui tried to keep dancing a secret from his parents, but they turned out to be very supportive of his new career. Around the age of 21, it was no longer a question whether Hui was gay. His mother, Cossette Hui, is his number one supporter.
“Dancing is an art,” Cossette said. “I’ve always been proud of him. When he’s on the float during the gay parade, I’m so proud and always say, ‘That’s my son.’”
Cossette has always supported whatever made her son happy. According to her, she knew Hui was for a long time, even before he came out. She caught school kids making fun of her son, calling him derogatory names, and she would confront the kids and stick up for her boy.
Hui’s mother knows the dangers that can come with her son’s job, like being followed, having stalkers, and possibly being assaulted at any moment on stage, so she is very protective of him. She sleeps earlier in the day so that she will be awake just in time to sit in the living room and wait for her son to come back home after each night of dancing. She likes that he decided to come back home to the Bay Area.
When Hui was younger, dancing brought him to various places outside of The Castro. The most interesting place he worked in was Las Vegas’ Chippendales from 2002 to 2004. Hui worked as a host and dreamed to be one of the performers, however his height prevented him from accomplishing that.
It was the same problem when Hui tried to pursue modeling. He started modeling at the age of 12 at shopping mall fashion shows. He made the cover of Playgirl magazine in 2002, and wanted to be a high end fashion model. Managers told him, “We wish we could stretch you!”
So when modeling fell through and Hui gave up the dreams of walking on runways abroad, dancing professionally brought Hui back to the Bay Area from Los Angeles. Even though he’s been in the dancing industry for a long time, he still gets butterflies right before performing. His favorite event to dance in is the Pride Parade, because it is usually for a cause like AIDS, and he likes to show his support and help raise money.
Friends know Hui more for what he does off the stage than on the stage. Dancing keeps Hui young and aware of his figure, so he is always working out and staying active. His friend, Max McDaniel, knows that dancing is the perfect profession for Hui because he has the right type of energy for the job.
“When Lex walks into a room, you know he’s there,” McDaniel said. “His energy is high, he’s always involved, and working as hard as anyone I know.”
Dancing is a competitive line of work, and Hui is concerned about the younger crowd of new dancers. They compete for hours and the attention of the audience, and Hui doesn’t know if he should give it up and let the younger dancers have their moment.
Still, something in Hui wants to keep going. He has spent a couple thousand dollars over the years on all his outfits. From leather shorts to sporty revealing tops and bottoms, Hui has an outfit for every themed event. He enjoys the thrill of dressing up and being the center of attention, keeping the crowd going, and living the bachelor life.
Dancing made Hui realize who he is, and it acted as an outlet for him to express himself. He knows he eventually has to give up dancing, and is now trying to embrace his age and where dancing has brought him in life.
“Until someone says, ‘Who wants to see that old Go-go dancer in that box?!’ is when I’m going to give it up,” Hui laughed.
I look at the picture that is posted above and I feel a little sad. I was in 3rd grade in that picture, and if I could tell 3rd grade me anything, I’d tell her sorry. I’d tell her not to give into what the media has pounded into her brain, the unrealistic expectations that we were all brought up on. I’d tell her that you don’t have to be a certain body type to be beautiful, to embrace the body she was given instead of shaming it. And most importantly I’d tell her she deserves to truly love herself, regardless what society projects.
For all my life I’ve struggled with body image issues. I would look at myself in the mirror and find all the things that I thought was wrong about me. From my stomach, to my arms, to the stretchmarks on my thighs, nothing was off limits. I remember watching the Tyra Banks show in the 4th grade, where she stood in front of her whole studio audience in a bathing suit she was recently shot in, where news outlets bashed her for her “imperfect” body. I remember watching Tyra choke up as she finished her speech, and I too started to get emotional.
“If I had lower self-esteem, I would probably be starving myself right now,” Banks said. “But that’s exactly what is happening to other women all over this country… To all of you that have something nasty to say about me, or other women that are built like me, women that sometimes or all the time look like this, women whose names you know, women whose name you don’t, women who have been picked on, women whose husbands put them down, women at work, or girls in school, I have one thing to say to you… KISS MY FAT ASS!”
I was young, but Tyra’s speech hit home. I’ve been insecure all my life. When people talk about weight or appearance, I cringe and hope that the attention isn’t put on me. I have a tough exterior, but the one thing that can bring me to instant (angry) tears, is when someone thinks it is okay to comment about my weight or appearance. That has always rubbed me the wrong way. Growing up I would get : “You gained weight,” “You’re getting bigger,” “You should watch what you eat,” “You would look so good if you were smaller!”… alright, dawg, you don’t think that out of all people I would know if I gained weight? And even if I wasn’t aware, I feel like it is never anyone’s place to casually bring it up.
Reyna Rochin, body builder and personal trainer, felt the pressure of the media and those around her growing up as well. She’s 100% badass, and has a huge heart. She uses her Instagram account to show her workout progress and to also share personal stories. She confessed her insecurities and personal stories on a couple of Instagram posts promoting self-love. Rochin has a ton of tattoos on her upper body and explains why.
“When I was 15, I HATED my upper body,” Rochin said on an Instagram post. “My wide shoulders and back were not what the other popular girls around me had and I was told by several boys that ‘you look like a man from behind.’ My tattoos are there because I love art and the aesthetics of tattoos but if I’m going to be honest, they are also a testament of new found self-love. My arms, shoulders, and chest used to be parts of me I loathed. And, as cheesy as it sounds, it wasn’t until taking lifting seriously did I realize that my broad shoulders could hold a 200 lb front squat no problem, or my strong chest could allow a 150 lb bench press to fly up easily.”
Rafaella Pereira also used working out to deal with her insecurities. She’s a wife, and a mother to a beautiful girl. Her Instagram feed is filled with personal stories of her struggles with body image issues. Growing up, she was told that she was fat, ugly, and dark. And for a big portion of her life, Pereira believed it.
“I would look in the mirror at times and scream, ‘you’re ugly, fat, and you will never be happy,’” said Rafaella Pereira. “I used to blame God for my lack of self-love and lack of motivation to be better.”
But Pereira has used the negativity as fuel to better herself. Her greatest accomplishment, but surely not last, was running a marathon that she would wake up every day at 5 am for. She hopes one day to publicly speak and help others.
As an older woman who is finally trying to come to terms with loving herself, accepting her body, and trying to unlearn all the things that were/ are detrimental to my peace of mind, I see and intake media differently. Up until recently I would look at pictures on Instagram of models, and I would think, “I wish I looked like that…” But ever since Ashley Graham started to break the mold in the model industry, I started looking at media realistically. There are people that edit their photos to try to uphold a “beautiful” image, they airbrush things that they don’t want you to see. But the thing is… IT’S NOT REAL. It’s all a lie. Stretchmarks, cellulite, rolls, IT’S NORMAL. EVERYONE HAS THEM. IT’S REAL.
That’s why I believe all these fashion shows are a joke. For the simple fact that not all body types are being represented. Not everyone is 5’10 or taller, under 110 lbs, with a size 0 waist. And if you are, then cool! I’m not trying to put anyone down for not being like me. However, representation is everything. Young girls and boys are growing up seeing the lack of diversity, and it encourages them to strive to be something they are not. Sometimes not even genetically possible.
Towards the end of 2016 it hit me that I basically spent my whole life hating my body. I look back to the photo above and around that age I had wrote in my diary “I’m gonna go on a diet.” I had an epiphany, and realized instead of being miserable and hating myself, I should love myself and be the person I wish I could look up to growing up. I’ve had too many instances in the fitting room when I just wanted to leave, even cried a couple of times. I’ve always been the bigger girl, and I’ve always tried to compare myself to others. I’ve vowed to try to stay body positive, even though I have my days when I feel the opposite. It’s awesome that there are people like Ashley Graham that promote self-love and accepting your curves and body type, but still also promotes the importance of a healthy lifestyle and working out. You can be built bigger and still be healthy, but there will always be people and the media telling you that it is not okay. But it is okay. And I wish I could’ve told 3rd grade me that. It’s a long road to unlearning all the horrible things I would think about myself, but it’s so much more worth it than staying in a state of self-loathing and self-hate.