Category Archives: Life is…..

The Trouble with Passing

Hi, My name is Shannon Murphy. Born in Ceiba, Puerto Rico and I call Luquillo, Puerto Rico home. I was raised between there and Pennsylvania. I am a Taurus. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. I have a Bachelors in Psychology. And I am Latina. But I am also passing. Now for those of you who don’t know what Passing is. Here’s the Urban Dictionary Definition, “When a light-skinned person is so close to the white race, it seems as if that person is white.” And in the current state of the Union, life is without a doubt easier when you are lighter.

Now Passing comes with a series of benefits that I take advantage of, even sometimes unknowingly. These benefits usually stem from White Privilege. A matter that is very divisive and that many people try to avoid talking about, to the point where after reading some of the definitions I have decided to not even include it because it would’ve just stemmed a troll war. But any way…What are these benefits?

Well for starters, when I speak Spanish, the remarks from the Caucasian race tend to be something along the lines of “Wow, it’s good to speak two languages. How did you learn to speak it with no accent? Did you study abroad?” Versus when my darker mother, or even ethnically ambiguous sister speaks Spanish they get the response, “This is America, speak English”

Another? When I’m in the mall, and the alarms go off, no one questions me, security hasn’t ever been called and I’m told it’s just a machine error and to have a good day. But when this happens to someone darker, they get to be pulled aside, security comes around, and have their bags and receipts checked.

Or my personal favorites, the joy of being able to wear dreadlocks, or a head-wrap without a problem. Getting to dress up the way I choose, with big door knocker earrings, and F*** Me Lipstick, in a plaid shirt, leaning like a Cholo, without a second glance. While those who pass by would say that I look “bohemian”, “exotic”, “ironic” and “Urban” cause they think they may have seen Kylie Jenner wear the same things. While those with more melanin are questioned on their cleanliness, their affiliations, their religion, and their legality. I get to be tattooed and not have anyone question the ink for the way they look, for their meanings, are they gang related? No, they’re expressions of me. But for other Latinos, they could mark you as a banger.

Because I am passing, no one really questions my ability, my prerogatives, my reasons for doing anything or being anywhere. I am just simply allowed to exist when I want and where I want because I am Passing. But I try to be vocal for those that don’t have these privileges in the least white-savior way possible, cause at the end I am not white, I don’t identify as white, and I will never identify as white. I am Latina, I was raised with Spanish music, eating Spanish food, asking for “bendiciones”. When I was sick, I got vaporub, when I was bad I got “La Chancla” and when people commented on my hair I was told I was lucky I didn’t have “Pelo Malo” even though that isn’t a thing . I have explained plenty of times that I know my privilege. I am a light skinned Latina, who speaks English with no accent, and my code-switching is at the top of it’s game, and my name is violently Irish causing no immediate conflicts.

The fact that I can be abundantly open with my emotions and never really have to check myself. I can say borderline whatever I want, and criticize however I please and when I am critiqued, I will be judged by what I have said and nothing more. My race will not be a factor, the way I speak will not be a factor, and the color of my skin will not be a factor. I will not be labelled as the “Crazy Latina” or the “Feisty Puerto Rican”.

The trouble with Passing is the fact that I am given privilege that others deserve more than me. Minority stories and experiences have value and should be heard and the fact that there have been numerous times in which that story has to come out of the white filter to be accredited is simply wrong. Minorities want to be a part of the narrative, they have worth, and lessons that can be learned through them. So when one is told that their experiences aren’t enough and aren’t valued until the white community has decided to validate them, well that is infuriating.

The problem that affects me most directly is I have the privilege to exist in two worlds but never fully in one. I could make my life easy and pass forever, take full advantage of a system that will be in my favor for the foreseeable future, but my roots are too strong for that, I stand with my people through thick and thin as they have for me. But when I come to exist in the Latino world, there’s always something just not 100% right about me, like a photocopy where the ink ran out and a small piece is missing. My name will continue to keep me sticking out like a sore thumb until I say my mothers maiden name and remind people “Soy Berrios”, with the rolled “R” but then sure enough at any party they may ask me to dance, and I love dancing, but that’s when Murphy comes out and my legs don’t connect to the ground in the right time, with the same rhythm and in the same tempo as my partners. Having dancing partners walk away from me because I don’t know how to salsa correctly, or dance bachata, I can’t even manage a simple two step. It makes me obviously the Gringa, and then comes the name calling, being Gringa, Blanquita, y Guera. When that happens I don’t know what to do. When I get harassed about being Latina, I can handle that. I have every fact down, and every rebuttal at the ready. But when I am called White, I feel myself shrink, I don’t know what to do or what to say because in my head I’m not white.

That Raza isn’t me. I benefit from the case of mistaken identity no doubt, but that’s not who I am. Soy Boricua, y esto es todo. But as long as I will continue to be am exception to the rule, and I continue to pass, best believe I’ll use that privilege to be the speaker for those who can’t. Because in the Trump-Era, the minute an accent is detected it quickly becomes discredited; when a foreign name is involved then the story behind it and the experiences are null and void, when you aren’t the perfect shade of white your voice and the mic you hold runs the chance of being turned off.

Until the day comes where every voice is heard the only advice I have is never be complicit, stand up, make yourself be heard. If you claim to be an ally do so in the fullest sense of the word, share the burden.

A las Mujeres antes que yo.

I’m bored.

“Pues pontes a limpiar.” “start cleaning” My inner (mother) voice goes. I look at my surroundings, take out the trash, organize my counter space, and fold my blankets. I look at my laundry, I just did it yesterday but the trick with laundry is it’s never truly done. So I take it the bathroom and start the hand-washing process, filling the buckets with water, adding the detergent and fabric softener, I tie my house dress up to stop it from getting wet( y asi tu sabes que soy una mujer viejita) (and that’s how you know I’m an old lady), and I assume the position, squatted aside the buckets taking my dirty laundry in hands and scrubbing them against each other.

I laugh, if my grandfather could see me now. Laundry day was a day of excitement for him when I lived in Puerto Rico, mostly cause it was the only day he would ever see me clean. He truly believes that I’ll never find a man because I don’t like cleaning and according to him I couldn’t keep a house to save my life…or keep a man. It’s a very antiquated thought process but it’s how he was raised.

Then I start thinking about his mother. Abuela Candita. I’ve never met her, only seen pictures and heard stories. Apparently she was a hard-ass, and I can believe it. The one picture of her that hangs in my grandfather’s house has her in what appears to be the living room, with an expression that just says “Atrevete.” “I dare you”. I think about how she must’ve looked when doing the laundry the way I am now. I wonder if she had a machine or had to do it by hand, and if my memory serves me right I think she had to do it by hand, going down to the river and cleaning whatever laundry she had and hauling it up, then hanging it in the Caribbean sun to dry.

Then I think of my other Abuela. Abuela Carmen. She had four daughters so I wonder if this process was more work or less, women are typically expected to take on the chores in a Latino family. But still, was it the same process?

Abuela Carmen and Myself

At this point I am almost done the laundry, but still thinking on the women before me. My Tia Nilda says the women in our family are Amazons, I’m never sure if she’s referring to the way we are built or our personalities. But I know she means our strength, both physical and mental. The women in my family are incredible, each in their own way, I look at my direct bloodline and I have my triathlete madre, my world-traveling, highly educated Abuela, and the matriarch of our family, the woman who started this line, my Bisabuela Carmen. My grandfather says that I will continue the line of strong women, he says that I remind him so much of my Abuela that it’s crazy, and he says Abuela Candita would’ve loved me for my strength.

And now the laundry is done, it’s hanging to dry in the Thai sun. Maybe the next time I’m bored I take a hint from my grandfather and just watch the day and listen to the birds.

Or just take a nap, like mom

The Joy in a Good Meal

I write this after the news of Anthony Bourdain’s passing has hit. He was one of my favorites to watch on the Travel Channel and CNN, and I thought to write something deep and insightful but I have yet to finish my first cup of coffee, so my mind drifted and a phrase popped into my head. Buen Provecho, translation? Enjoy your meal. The three countries I have gone to that use this phrase is Puerto Rico, United States, and France.

When it is said in the States, I believe it is said with only a hint of care. It is said mostly by servers who get paid the bare minimum and who by and large don’t care. The fake smile and infliction in the voice is the same for each table, granted if you are a regular you might have a vaguely different experience and there now runs an 80% chance the server will care if something is wrong with your food, but in all actuality it is the servers job to take your order and bring it to you, plastered smiles and all.

“Enjoy your meal,” as they run to the next table or back to the server stations.

“Buen Provecho,” says the mesera.

“Buen Provecho,” says the family next to you.

“Buen Provecho,” says the old man passing by.

“Gracias, igual,” you say to all of them.

In Puerto Rico meals are taken seriously. This is a time that is more often then not spent with family. In addition, the food is prepared with such love that everyone can’t help but wish you a good meal. When you’re in PR and eating, you are tasting it’s history, you are sampling what Puerto Ricans are made of. The flavors of the Taino, African, and Spaniards blend so wonderfully into something that brings you to a home you didn’t know you had.

Even in my college years, everyone understood just how hard it was to get a full meal between classes, so many times I would be walking to the library eating a bag of chips, and people would wish me a good meal regardless.

Puerto Rico is known for it’s friendliness and meal time is no different. Puerto Ricans will always wish you a good meal, because it is a good meal. Anthony Bourdain himself could attest for how wonderful the island and food was something that could make him real happy.

France. The quintessential “Bon Appetit,” I only heard it said a couple of times, with the Parisian cockiness that oozed confidence. They knew that their food was good, great. Frances food made me happy beyond belief. It was delicate, and made with care. Whereas the Germans put their brainpower into engineering, the French put theirs into the food, and it shows.

French cuisine is known worldwide, most of the french words for kitchen and food isn’t even changed into other languages, it’s kept to it’s native French, because no one dares mess with perfection.

“Bon Appetit,” is said with well deserved confidence. They know the food is good, and they know that by the first bite you will agree.

“Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me.”

-Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018)


Grandma says “ You know what? It’s not my issue anymore, if you can’t find a job because of this it’s not my fault.”

Mom says “Well I can’t tell you what to do with your life.”

Grandpa says “Women like that are so ugly.”

Tattoos. That’s the subject. Currently I have eight. All beautifully placed and pretty well done. Here’s the rundown.

Serendipity on my arm. Meaning, the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way, also a happy accident. I see much of my life as a happy accident so it was a fitting word, plus saying it is fun, go ahead try it.

There’s a Lotus outline on my ribs which is my first tattoo, I got it matching with my mother and that’s about it. The traditional symbolism of lotus flowers is purity and harmony but it was just really a design I liked.

Feather on my left rib cage. Feather has somehow ended up being one of my lifetime nicknames. My grandmother used to give me feathers to play with and it ended up transferring to my nickname. Much later in life a dear friend of mine went to Canada and brought home a pair of earring for me, they were feathers. She had a matching pair only hers were bigger causing me to laugh and say “big feather and little feather!” So there it is, my nickname is feather and I have it on me for life.

Under my feather I have the words “Send me on my way” this being a Rusted Roots song, it always makes me happy for some reason and carries on with my life theme of always being on the move. I like to think that life will always be sending me on my way.

On my left thigh is one of my biggest tattoos, a raven framed with a victorian outline. My raven is standing on a heart, the meaning for this one is Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven and The Tell-Tale Heart. For the Raven tattoo, the entire driving force behind it is woeful insanity, the psychotic breaks, and depression. The negative aspects of absolutely losing your mind. This tattoo is meant to have a sister on the other leg, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. But I’m planning on getting the Mad Hatter and his tea party on the right leg to show the fun side of being entirely bonkers.

Next is my Warpaint tattoo, I got this one the day it was announced that Trump would be president.Which was for me, as it was with many a very emotional day. In a way I felt defeated, because how could such an awful human being get put into a position such as that, especially after we had such an accepting and clean-cut President beforehand. The design itself is a rose with a case of lipstick and the word Warpaint written across. The idea behind this is to say that my femininity is never a weakness but it is my strength, and everyday when I get ready I put on my warpaint and take on the day.Finally the last two have simple themes, Frida Kahlo. I have a minimalist tattoo of her unibrow, flowers, and hair on my back. It was a spontaneous tattoo done with my best friend. Then the next one is another one I got done with my mother. Her’s is a long quote from Frida, mine says “I am Simply I am” meaning to me, what I am is what I am, no tricks, no gimmicks, just me.

Tattoos are art, they are stories, they are memories that we carry for life. Yes, someday I will sag and they will look nothing like they do now. But for now they are here and I love telling people all about them. Of course people say negative things, but the best answer for them is “If you don’t like tattoos, don’t get them”.

They call the wind Maria.

I knew one day my view from work wouldn’t be the ocean. I knew someday I’d be doing a nine to five or working in some kind of office or closed environment. A place where the surfers aren’t. A place where the salty air and sand doesn’t invade my senses as well as the building I call work. It would be a matter of time. I just didn’t expect it to be so sudden. What was my life before Maria hit? I just finished college and was getting ready to start my masters. Perhaps in psychology or business. I have a travel bug so I was looking at international business. My university offered a program that would allow me to live in South America so that was a good goal. But I came into work one day and was warned about Irma. Prep had to be done. I did what I thought was important. Picked up my cat, grabbed some food, water, filled the car with gasoline. I mean Irma was a category five hurricane, she wasn’t supposed to be nice. But she passed. My coworkers and I joked about how she wasn’t as bad as we thought. But Maria was coming too. I’ve explained this many times since moving. If a storm comes from the north the Bermuda Triangle does some kind of magic and it usually doesn’t hit Puerto Rico bad. If it comes from the south. Well hold on to your caña and hope for the best. But we did it again. Prepped and joked around saying Ave Maria. But all the Ave Maria’s in the world wouldn’t stop her from being a rotten bitch. She came at around 3am. Immediately took the electricity. Immediately took the storm shutters off one window. Immediately destroyed the garage. That day was full of immediately. Nothing seemed to happen slowly. It just happened. When she passed. I walked out of my house. I walked out to a new island. One I didn’t recognize. I imagine it’s how buzz aldrin felt on the moon. All the green I was accustomed to was replaced with grays and black. Grass was replaced with mud and debris. The trees looked as though they were toothpick for giants. Cracked in half and distorted. Even my home had the paint stripped off it, revealing its murky concrete walls. My grandpa and I got to work clearing out what we could, we honestly didn’t even know where to start. But machetes in hand we tore down and paved a way for trucks that we hoped would come soon to handle the bigger pieces. Days passed, we heard nothing from the outside. We eventually set out to see my uncle and my work. This would be one of the big influences on if I would have to leave home. When we arrived my work was missing pieces of the patio and the roof. I commiserated with my coworkers and the sorrow hit like a truck. Some were left without homes. Others couldn’t contact family. The streets were deserted. No songs. No chatter. Nothing. I walked to the town square. And still nothing. The silence spoke the loudest. I walked back to my grandpa and he said “It’ll be best that you stay with your mom. Just for the winter”. His words were coated with a forced, false optimism. I went home and started trying to figure out what to do. There was no cell signal. I couldn’t even figure out how to get a ticket out. Our plan was just to go to the airport and hope for a ticket. I packed my backpack with five shirts and three pants, a skirt, a dress, and my work apron. I had five copies of my resume ready and could only hope for things to work out. Days passed. I gave my room a good cleaning and on my last I took all the meat and sorted the good from the bad and made a small fire and cooked what was left, hoping it would be enough for my Grampa to last until the power came back. After that he called me to the truck and dropped me off with my grandma in San Juan. I spent a week there. In and out of contact with my stateside family. They were struggling to get me a ticket out, but when they did it was a blessing. I landed in Pennsylvania after a couple of close calls and delays. I settled in to my room, at my mothers house. Two days later I had a job. Four days later my reality struck and I sobbed. There are days where I think I’m doing good and I see this move as a happy accident. But then there are days where I long for home. I want to hear the coqui’s. I want the waves crashing as my background noise at work. I want the reggae, the Bomba y plena. I want to smell cafe bustelo or pilón in the morning. I miss the warmth of my people. The buen provecho and buen día y ay benditos. But I am in the states now and I have to make due. Granted I am fortunate. Much more than other. I have work, I had a home to go to, I have my life. Maria has taught me that try as I might I can’t control everything. I can only control my reaction to it. At work many customers try to pity me. I am no ones sob story nor am I someone’s feel good story. I remind people that Island life is not just piña coladas and dancing in the waves. It’s hurricanes, it’s struggles, it’s being able to adjust to the rising tides. As I write this I’m at work hiding my phone, with my view being a mall parking lot, 80’s music blaring from the bar and mariachi music from the dining room. I’m hosting in the morning and bartending at night. Doing a fair hustle. I have hope for my future what I worry about is my Island. I hope that with the current government my Island doesn’t get swept under the rug. I hope I can return soon and see my Island thrive again.

Neysha Monique Pagan Sabino

Neysha Monique Pagan Sabino. This is the name of my muse, my Venus De Milo, my Marilyn and Diana. This woman is one you could look at a million times and always notice something new and meaningful, whether it be brought unto her body intentionally or by accident. The scars, the tattoos, the dreads. They all tell the most wonderful story of a most wonderful person. The day I met her, I felt inadequate. Because at that time I had yet to make any story for myself, and yet in front of me stood a woman of similar age whose story radiated from her. I treated her with my typical treatment of newcomers, indifference. She never saw it as such. She saw some nice-ness in me. She’s always been good at seeing the hidden gems within each person.

I don’t remember how long it took or who initiated the first real contact. But something happened and now I can’t remember a moment in which we weren’t friends. I couldn’t remember it even if I tried. Probably because I don’t want to remember a time where I didn’t have my better half. Four years have passed and I still get the twinge of jealousy whenever she calls someone else her best friend, but I believe all of her friends have a piece of her complex personality within themselves and this is what draws her to them and vice versa. The broken pieces from old spirits that are drawn to one another to become whole again.

And to say we bonded on normal things would be an understatement. We are the weirdos, the outcasts. Death would bring us together while ironically life pulls us apart. We don’t do normal. She’s never been normal. Even the most unique and unusual words couldn’t describe her. For this I love her. 

There are many songs that have lyrics that remind me of this enigmatic person. But only one full song that I believe best describe our relationship, oddly it’s from the musical Wicked, about two witches similar to the kind we often believe we are. The song is called For Good. As she leaves for an undetermined amount of time in Southeast Asia I find one part of the song to nail my feelings on the head.

-It well may be, that we will never meet again in this lifetime, so let me say before we part. So much of me is made of what I learned from you. You’ll be with me like a handprint on my heart. And now whatever way our stories end, I know you have rewritten mine by being my friend-

It continues saying Who can say I’ve been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I have been changed for good. 

I don’t like going into individual times, or experiences simply because it puts people in awkward positions to explain themselves and often my memory falters in recalling some events. But try as I might I would never describe any moment with Neysha as bad. All were learning experiences. I don’t think she ever learned much from me, I don’t have much to offer. But from her I learned independence, strength, acceptance, patience, and trying to see past the exterior of a person. 

In the past months before she leaves I’ve made jokes of how I won’t be able to function when she leaves but I know I’ll be okay. I forget sometimes that she’s leaving and then when I remember suddenly I’m in a puddle of my own tears but I work it out. In a nerdy way she reminds me of the little fairy or animal that pops up in the beginning of every video game and aids you until you can function on your own, through the vast world on a journey through your own adventure. Neysha is/was my fairy. She pushed me through experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t go for. She made it so I would be okay by myself, I know she didn’t know that she was doing this but I want her to know. 

She’s going on the adventure of a lifetime. But she is the adventure of a lifetime. A one in a million kind of person who brings light into others lives. I’ve told people in Portugal, Spain, France, and Germany about my best friend. I’ve told people who will most likely never meet her. I’ll tell anyone who will listen of this mystifying individual as if she’s some kind of ominous conspiracy theory. But truly I hope the world gets to meet her and appreciate her the way she deserves. The thing about meeting Neysha is you have to be prepared for change. You yourself will change. You may not notice it at first but it will be there and one day you will smile at someone you wouldn’t typically or step or jump or leap out of your comfort zone. And when you tell her she will smile from ear to ear and every beautiful feature on her face will light up as she tells you the words that you have unconsciously been searching for from the moment you met, “I am so proud of you”.

I hope for nothing but the world for my best friend. I hope we cross paths again, but not soon, and not on the island we call home. I want her to see everything, to fill her mind with stories and her heart with otherworldly love. With the love of everyone she meets. With the love for the strange and distant lands she will explore. On her little island called home she will leave behind people who love her so dearly that even when she’s away she will be brought up in every conversation. She will be leaving people who wouldn’t have been friends without her. People who have nothing in common but the denominator that is her. 

And with this best friend, I will never say bye. Just until next time. 

Bienvenidos a Turabo

What did I want to do with my life. 18 year old shannon sat there saying “well I don’t know”. You see I was the rock of the family at that time. The oldest child who helped out a lot while my mom was at work. I maintained good grades, and worked, and watched my sister. So from ages 14-18 my life was based on that. I didn’t think of the future because it seemed so far off. Plus the idea of potentially abandoning my family was daunting. I had ideas of what I wanted to study and be but they just seemed like ideas nothing to shoot for. I thought maybe I could work in business, or as a translator, or a ESL teacher. But I couldn’t think of following any of those things. However when my grandfather showed up for my graduation the idea of becoming an engineer was put into my mothers head, and with me being agreeable to a fault. I agreed. Being awful at math never seemed like it would be a problem. Anyway off I went. The big trick was I wouldn’t be going to school in my hometown, not even my home state. I was moving to Puerto Rico. Where I was born, and where my family was from. This was done for financial reasons. I had no chance of getting out of college without racking up massive amounts of debt, Puerto Rico offered the same quality of education at a drastically different price point.

So I broke up with my high school boyfriend, packed up my shit, and quit my job after graduation. I was spiteful for awhile, but had a job immediately. Which helped a lot. Waitressing and bartending was easily the best way to make friends fast.

But work is another story. My college was all in Spanish. What language do I speak? English. My first day of college I was so nervous I threw up my entire breakfast. The idea of being so different and not just a little bit but to the point where communication couldn’t even be done. Soon I had realized some of those fears were completely unfounded. But others helped me…. a lot. Through the four years in college my skin had to get tough. Despite being Puerto Rican I had to face becoming the “gringa”. My professors for the most part hated me. I was an inconvenience. And in typical Puerto Rican behavior they had no problem letting me know I was an inconvenience to them. Within the first semester each of my professors told me to get out of their class, to go home, or that I was “special”. It was completely discouraging. But I persisted. Of course as most college students do I changed my major to psychology.

Four years later, I have my degree. I had shocked many of my professors by graduating and spending a good amount of my free time doing speeches about accepting each other’s differences and how diversity improves the quality of lives. Through my years in school I made some great connections, even in different countries.

So what seemed like a daunting task at the time turnt out to be one of the best things I could’ve done. As typical Shannon I proved people wrong. Mostly out of spite. But whatever.

Also even though I’m doing my masters in this school, I don’t recommend Universidad Del Turabo.