Finally home: But for how long?

Finally home: But for how long?

In the past two weeks, two amazing things have happened: I moved into affordable housing that I have been waiting for years to achieve, and I started my new position as the Communications and Development Coordinator at the Community Alliance of Tenants here in Oregon. It seems like a weird twist of fate that I would move on to do both in the span of 7 days, but justice has piercing vision.

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My husband’s dating profile while we were still married.

 

 

By this point, many of you have heard my story and I’ve practiced telling it hundreds of times. I feel compelled to tell it because every time I do I feel freer. I used to feel condemned to silence, to my own discomfort, but the more I shared my story, the more solidarity and strength I have found and offered.

Years ago I was the wife of a wealthy British expat. I met him in Berlin when I was 22. I was married young, the same year I met him. He moved us to America, back to Portland where I went to college. Once he had secured American residency, I was driven out of my home and threatened with retaliation if I came back. I felt like a dog that someone didn’t want anymore. There was no fight, or lead up. I was just told to pack a bag and abandoned by a man who claimed he loved me. I had gone from rags to riches to rags again, having started my time in the United States as a Salvadoran refugee.

The rental crisis in Portland was in full swing when I found myself houseless in late summer 2014. Airbnb run amock, private developers eyed corners were beggars could scarcely sleep at night without being harassed by the City. I was scared. My husband asked me if I thought I was “too good” for the life I had left behind.

news-12west-aia-awardNo. I was afraid. Just like my parents were, just like I was when I was a child. How horrible it was to not know where to put my head. Other women my age were cuddling their first-borns, just getting married themselves. My wedding dress was stuffed in my husband’s closet while other women asked him “Did a woman used to live here? Do you have a wife?”

There is a corner of my life I still do not understand – the futility of understanding a man’s cruelty. When rents skyrocket the way they do here in Portland, and in the Bay Area, women like me, like us, fall into desperation.

We don’t frequently think of poverty as a women’s issue, per se, but the face of poverty is female. Mothers with children, Black women, trans women, disabled women, women escaping domestic violence: these are the women who cannot afford to live alone. These are women who are coerced through capitalism to live and stay in the arms of men who make more money than them. Through no fault of their own, these women are given the choice to be homeless or go back. Rent control and the rental crisis are women’s issues.

When I was alone and picking through my last things in the luggage I lived with, I remember begging my husband to let me go home in voicemails. He deleted them, threw my letters away, but I cried out to him to please help me go home. When the pain grew too heavy, I tried to check myself into a mental health clinic for suicidal ideation. That is when I learned my husband had cut my health insurance. I was still married, still his wife, but I had no other thoughts than “he is trying to kill me.”

I often kick myself for the sense of loss I have for that man. I can still close my eyes and see him like it was yesterday. There is not a single day I don’t think about him: my husband. The only one I ever had. If there was ever a case for fate or a higher power, it was that I clawed myself out of the hole he left me in and that I am housed today.

The concierge he treated so poorly saw his actions. The neighbors he dismissed reported back to me. The baristas, the women he accosted in bars and online, many of them searched out his name and only learned who he was because of my decision to write it all down.

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Not knowing where I was going to sleep next was one of the most distressing ordeals of my life.

 

Years later, one of the women recognized me. She was the property manager of a new building with affordable housing. She told me I would finally have a home. I cried because I had not known that feeling for so long. I do not know where I would be now without it.

The work I am doing now represents the work that made me whole. I am letting you know that Oregon needs rent control and an end right now to no-cause evictions and extreme rent hikes. If I could have found affordable housing after my husband abandoned me, I would have been able to re-establish my life more quickly. One of the biggest indicators for whether women overcoming domestic violence can thrive is if they can find a home. You’re even more likely to find a good job if you have a stable place to live. It’s a catch 22, but it’s the reality for thousands of women in Oregon every year.

Even if you own a home, I hope you will help me spread the word about HB2004, also known as Stable Homes for Oregon Families. Please make sure other women like me stay housed. Write or call your legislator and tell them why this matters. But go beyond that. Figure out where people are living when they lose their homes near you. Where do they go? Where do the women who suffer go? Who is profiting off their sorrow and pain?

17861920_1665967807045068_1438011596778990259_nI challenge you to follow the trail of money. See who is making money when a family loses their home. Look up how much money it is. Look up everything you need to know and do something about it. Challenge the people who kick women out to offer affordable housing and support rent control. We cannot continue to treat our poorest people like this. We cannot thrive as a society when we are hemorrhaging our young people who cannot afford to buy homes like this. Our elderly cannot simply be thrown into the streets because of profit margins. Limitless growth for the property management industry is not possible.

Our lawmakers work for us – remember that. Hold them accountable for what they do to the meekest of your peers.

Exciting 2016 News

Exciting 2016 News

It’s January and that means epic new posts on my life because ~new year new me~ right? I won’t bore you with resolutions because the only thing I plan to do differently this year is stop hating myself for falling into comforting human habits, like buying myself lattes when I’m cold or tired. Also, I love January because I love buying stationary and it’s a great excuse to get artsy calendars and motivate yourself to do something meaningful with your life regardless of how difficult that might seem. In 2016, I want to get into graduate school. Let’s see how that goes!

Now here’s some cool news – I’m the new Communications Specialist at PFLAG Portland Black Chapter and I’m ecstatic to help them grow this year. You can read my full interview with them here.

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My interview with Sandra Cisnero’s focuses on her latest book “A House of My Own” along with her relationship with ghosts, surveillance, and Latinidad.

I’ve interviewed a number of people in the past few months and those interviews are just out now – namely a new exciting interview with Sandra Cisneros that was published in the Rumpus this week.

I also interviewed Leila Hofstein of Black Lives Matter Portland for the Portland Observer’s MLK Special Edition and highlight how the organization has grown this year especially.

The MLK Edition also features an exclusive interview with Know Your City’s executive director and long-term activist Cameron Whitten, along with a spotlight on the two winners of the first ever Portland Youth Poet Laureate competition, Sekai Edwards and Alexis Cannard.

There were all wonderful bylines to have but one of the most exciting announcements I have I’ve saved for last – I am really excited to say today I was contacted by the director of the Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South at Duke University and invited to be their February Arob@ Visiting Resident Blogger. The blog is curated by a different artist, scholar, activist, or public intellectual each month, and past visiting writers include artist Pocholandia – AKA izelvargas.com, novelist Patricia Engel, food journalist Victoria Bouloubasis, and most recently Margarita Azucar. I hope to live up to the wonderful work of my predecessors this February – and if you want to learn more about the blog you can check it out now!

And if you haven’t scored a copy yet, order one of the limited remaining copies of my chapbook, Nobody Remembered Your Name But I Wrote It Down (Impossible Wings, Dec. 2015). I’m eager to do readings and get you copies, workshops, and speak to your friends about it.

 

 

 

Support Refugee Reading in Portland

Support Refugee Reading in Portland

Hey everyone in the Pacific Northwest: in light of so many recent discussions on refugees I have been invited to read on a panel of refugee writers through Tell It Slant and Light Night Library – where I was a featured co-host earlier this year (click here and listen to my voice and hear my discussing Maggie Messit’s book, The Rainy Season along with Elizabeth Enslin).

Here’s the facebook event page and I hope you will share this all writers of color event in one of the whitest major cities on the west coast during this critical time for refugees. 12243500_10153781847829885_2965073151121373299_n

As I continue to provide these free readings and educational opportunities for the community, consider contributing to my patreon account so that I can continue to survive in Portland as a Salvadoran refugee writer, reporter, and activist.

I am booked up this fall and winter with wonderful readings and workshops, and will have dozens of great news stories coming up for general readers. I also have a peace I am working on peace for a Salvadoran anthology that will be translated into Spanish, so please keep supporting me and I will keep supporting our communities and creating free and low-barrier art, literature and essays for people of all mean.

The Week of Monae

The Week of Monae

This week I scored free tickets to a Janelle Monáe concert – and so did seemingly half the city of Portland. Over 900 people attended Monday’s concert at the Roseland Theater. She spent the day at a Don’t Shoot PDX rally.

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Despite intense differences activists from all over the spectrum attended the Monday rally and school supply fundraiser and later that night, all of us pushed to get in. I saw black and latino writers, musicians, dancers, activists, students, standing in the massive round-the-block line to witness Wondaland join Monáe for her Portland tour.

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I took a massive amount of photos, all which are available here. My full front page article on her civil rights anthem and national tour here.

My other major piece I’ve been working on is a story about a major problem facing the nearby city of Vancouver, Washington. There is currently no women’s shelter service the city, which is a major threat to the safety and livelihood of women throughout Clark County. Women are the face of poverty in the United States and across the world.

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When they don’t have devoted women’s shelters, they are liable to being attacked, raped, and killed in co-ed and men’s shelters. Vancouver needs your help. Read my article to sign a petition and donate to a future women’s shelter in Vancouver, Washington.

Finally, this week’s Notable Portland is out – meaning it’s a great time to follow allow along with the local literary community.

I’ll have more information on this year’s Wordstock soon but suffice to say it’s time to clear your calendars and plan ahead to attend one the west coast’s most unique literary festivals. Being on the advisory board means I can’t tell you WHO is coming, but I got some tastes recently and I am excited for you to get the news when they finally release information to the public. RSVP on their facebook page if you want to join me there this year.