My favorite goodbye.

I’m five months into my 27 months in Peace Corps and recently I started thinking about all the byes I have said in the last half year. I said bye to both my biological family and my host family, both of those were equally hard in different ways. I said goodbye to my bosses, managers, and co-workers, not super easy. I said bye to my Tuesday night darts and drinking buddies. Probably the easiest in all honesty. And I said bye to other volunteers but that’s not so much of a bye as it is a see you soon. But of all the byes that I had to say the one that affected me the most, mostly out of sheer confusion was my best friend.

We had agreed to spend the day at the mall, and later go to one of our favorite restaurant’s Bahama Breeze, known for it’s hokey interior and being the only place I could get vaguely authentic Caribbean food and Red Stripe Beer. We sat for hours with her watching an Eagles game and me entertaining myself through Pokemon Go. We were without a doubt camping and quickly becoming the bane of our servers existence, but I couldn’t find it in me to want to leave. I didn’t know if I’d see her again and the prospect of moving scared me and for the past year she had been a rock for me.

As I’ve said many times, my friends reflect what I want to be. Megan was exactly what I needed at the time. I needed someone to show me how to be kind, and happy without fear. And she did just that, to this day my mother accredits Megan with helping me become softer.

But saying bye to her. We walked to our cars, gave a small hug, and she said “I’ll see you later.” then got into her VW Bug and drove home. My mind was racing, I thought “I’m leaving in like two days, what if we don’t see each other by then. How could she have left with such a weak bye?” I was perplexed. But then I thought maybe she was being so abrupt because she too wasn’t ready to say bye. It’s easier to say see you later. Bye seems so final. So as it is then, I’ll see you later.

But words though..

Ask me any day what kind of music I like, and I will tell you hip hop. Don’t ask me if it’s old school or new, but know it’s definitely not that mumble rap and it’s certainly not Migos. I’m currently loving “Clipping.” so check that out, but to be warned don’t listen to it too loud, the afro-futuristic, electronic, sci-fi sound is definitely a lot to take in the first couple of times. Hip Hop has always told a story, and that’s what I love. The feeling of completion at the end of the song is so similar to finishing a book.

And that’s what it is meant to be. Hip Hop and Rap are forms of storytelling, it comes from the voices of people otherwise not heard. Those in urban, disadvantaged communities found a way for their story to be told and it started something so great in music. Hip Hop is a revolution in itself. It is something that can take the old and re-brand it and shape it into something new. Need an example? Take a look at Hamilton. No one aside from historians, could be bothered to care about Hamilton until it was revitalized, and modernized into an amazing musical, from then on everyone wanted to know about the life story of Alexander Hamilton, and those who know the music can tell you what Hip Hop has done to assist in the renewed interest in the Revolutionary War era and the interest and understanding of the Political system. The songs from Hamilton do so much more than convey the story and feed information. It breaks down the barrier of time and makes the characters, our Founding Fathers, relatable. I myself, am very much of a Lafayette, at least according to the “Which “Hamilton” character are you?” quiz on Buzzfeed. But when listening to the album you get a sense of how each respective character is, and what they stand for, and their developmental arc throughout the musical. Hip Hop has a way of telling stories that eliminates the frills and it gets down to the bare bones.

The next best thing about Hip Hop is it allows the tough stories to be told. So many claim that Hip Hop is violent but that isn’t always the case. In terms of the older hip hop, or the more true hip hop, it’s the story again. It’s the experiences of a person, so if that person has seen someone get shot or had to deal drugs in the past that is their way of expressing it and coping with it. Hip Hop has a very psychological element to it. Think on this for a moment. Those who come from good backgrounds are able to afford the necessary mental care and treatments after a traumatic event, those in underrepresented and disenfranchised areas are not given the same resources. When someone goes through something traumatic an emotional outlet is needed. Some paint, some exercise, some make clay sculptures, but when these options aren’t available to you the best you can do is verbalize your feelings. One truth of living in the underrepresented areas, is there is a large population of minorities, mainly African Americans and Hispanics, and if there’s one thing these cultures have in common it’s their proclivities for rhythm and beats, and musical talent in general. So one is able to take the pain or joy of their experiences and combine it with their culture around them and make music that tells their story. They can heal through this process.

I love spoken word. I don’t believe I’m any good at it, albeit I’ve never tried. Spoken word is the root of Hip Hop, it has no music behind it, it is raw and emotional and life-changing. There is something so amazing about the art of speech that true spoken word artists have. One thing that should always be minded is the fact that spoken word is more than speaking. Which sounds confusing but the reality is almost anyone can speak but those who have mastered spoken word, have the talents of understanding inflections, and flow. Spoken word isn’t on paper and thus it focuses less on how the words look and more on how they sound. To every spoken word piece there is an ebb and flow that makes every listener feel something, the back and forth creates such an auditory pleasure that when you find the right piece you feel like you could start change, that you alone could create change and it sometimes only takes 2 minutes to listen to. A two minute revolution and revitalization. Every spoken word piece I have heard sounds like the artist is trying to sell me something and at the end I will always buy.

Hip Hop is something that can cause change and those in power are aware of it, and to help this come full circle, here’s a fun fact. Currently in Russia, China, Thailand, and Turkmenistan Hip Hop and Rap is being used to assist the respective Government’s draw younger crowds, encourage voting and spread the political parties agendas. Whether the youth and general public agrees with them or not, there is something to be said for the effort that it would take. But in all of these countries Hip Hop started as a way to disagree with the Government and begin revolutions and form change, it was all based on the underground communities and was almost banned in many cases. Until the Governments decided to wield that verbal weapon against them.

We are currently living in a world where, in my honest opinion, good music is hard to come by. It’s all very perfectly primped, and polished, and has an aesthetic that it is not trying to stray from. Many artists sound so similar they might as well be the same person. But Hip Hop is something that is able to stand the test of time. It’s in a rough spot right now thanks to SoundCloud rappers, but true to it’s form it get back up and finishes the story. It stays as a way to express opinions and tell stories.

Start at 2:22
Black Panther/F*** Batman

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

Pero ma, estoy bien.

So I’m on a call with my biological mother, (I say biological because now I also have a Thai mother) and the lights go out and the call ends. Third time this week, and every single time I get Hurricane Maria flashbacks, I prepare myself for the potential days without electricity, starting oddly enough with first checking my water, and then checking my flashlight, then backup batteries, I even begin to dig my solar panel out of my luggage. But then before I get to far into my bags, the lights are back on. I wait about five minutes for the wi-fi to kick in and get back on the call with my bio mom.

Bio Mom for Show cause she’s adorable

“But are you okay? You can’t hang up on me like that!”

“Ma, I’m good, the electricity just went out for a minute. It’s normal”, I say exasperated.

“But why is that normal? I thought you said you were in a good area!”

“I am mom, but come on, it’s still the Peace Corps I’m not in the lap of luxury.”

“Okay, just next time let me know when you aren’t going to have electricity.”

“Yeah, cause I totally know when that will happen.”

The Latina mother is one to always worry, and mine is no exception. She pretends she doesn’t with her motto of I raised you to be strong. But deep down she always worries, and I can tell because she’ll tell me to control things that I clear as day cannot.

I’ve noted that Thai women and Latina women are cut from the same sheet. Both want you to eat, and honestly when push comes to shove, will make you eat. Both want to just take care of you, especially if you’re a boy, cause girls should already know these things. Both are super nervous about you getting hurt, my Thai counterparts have already matched my mother on holding my hand while we cross the street, they even scream if I go without them.

And worst/best of all. I can always hear my mother saying “Pero nina, tu eres gorda” or “Pero nina, tu eres bien flaca, ponte a comer.” as my Thai Mother would tell me, “Very skinny, eat much” or “Very big, eat little”

I miss my bio mom, and I miss my Thai mom. But it’s amazing to see how motherhood transcends cultures. But Moms, I’m fine. I’m eating. I’m not hurt I swear. And yes, I tell you the next time the electricity is about to go out.

So how’s Goal Two going?

“Soy primeramente Boricua, Americana Segunda.”

Those words are pretty important to me when people ask about my background, since many still struggle to understand that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. It translates to “I am Puerto Rican first, American second.” and while that sounds more harsh in English it’s just our explanation that we love our island, and align with our culture more than the American culture.

So when I explain to people at my site that I am Puerto Rican most don’t even know where that is. So I pull out my trusty little phone map and show them that it is off the coast of Florida, then I explain further and say that the USVI is also part of America, just further out. This helps many understand the concept much more, and even when they don’t fully understand it most just say “Okay.” and move on from the subject. They know that I am still the volunteer that they signed up for, and I feel happy because I got to share my culture for a bit.

What else has been done to share my Puerto Rican side, well some methods are very low-key. As simple as making my classroom playlist consist of albums like “Marc Anthony for Babies”, some students enjoy it, while others don’t know what to make of it. Even when I’m getting ready and hanging out in my classroom most of the visitors are welcomed by some form of salsa, bomba y plena, or reggaeton. Then for the adults when we are out on the town and they want to cheers we take the second to learn how to cheers in English, and in Spanish, saying loudly and for the first couple of tries messing it up. But at the end of the night everyone is saying “Arriba, Abajo, Al Centro, Pa Dentro!”

Then there’s other times where my Puerto Rican influence goes all out. It’s going to take a killer experience to overshadow the night that my host family and I gathered in the kitchen to make Mofongo and Coquito. With my aunt and I managing the Pilon, my Yai handling the fryer, and my mom peeling all the plantains, it was a wonderful time where I got to explain to my family how Puerto Rican culture is. Why we use plantains in most of our food, what else do Puerto Ricans eat? Why is mofongo called mofongo? and one question that had nothing to do with food but I could tell was driving them crazy since day one I told them I was Puerto Rican. What is Puerto Rico? No matter how odd the question was I answered it, and shared my culture and stories with them. Did they enjoy the mofongo you may ask? No they didn’t really care for it, they wanted spicier food and that got answered with “Most Puerto Rican food isn’t spicy”

I am a Puerto Rican first, an American second, in Thailand. The joy of travel is the sharing of cultures and I’m happy to be in a country so intrigued by mine, I can’t wait to share more and see the connections that it can make. Who knows maybe my school will have the first Bomba Club in Thailand.

You can do Hard Things.

Well here I sit. On my bed, somewhere in Uthai Thani enjoying some weird spicy bread stick snack. I have maybe finally caught up with the lost sleep from PST and I feel good. I am so proud to say that I am finally a Peace Corps Volunteer, a solid seven years ago I did a project in my business class about Peace Corps and that sparked something. Then one night two years ago, I looked up from my dinner towards my grandmother who was being a slight pain in my rear (love you grandma) and said “I don’t know, maybe I’ll join Peace Corps” She said something along the lines of good idea. Then one year and four months ago I moved from my home in Puerto Rico post Hurricane Maria. My mother told me “I love you but you have one year to get out of my house.” Then I did it. About an hour before my closing night shift at my dead end job, (Mexican franchise restaurant) I applied for Peace Corps. I looked at my mom who was also my manager and just said “I did it”. Then we waited, and waited, and waited more. Finally a solid three months later I got the email saying to get ready for an interview. When that day came I sat in my living room with a notebook full of answers to questions I was sure were coming and they did, for an hour. When I got off the phone, I went to my mom’s room to tell her but she was still sleeping. So from then I waited, and waited, and waited way more. I was convinced they didn’t want me. Why would they? I was a bartender, I didn’t go to a great University, and my only experience teaching English was to my Venezuelan stepdad and in my mind really that shouldn’t even count because teaching is what families do for each other. In my mind at that time was Peace Corps is something rich, white people do. So I did what I do best, travel. My best friend and I spent the summer traveling the states. We went to Puerto Rico, Boston, Miami, Canada and I tried to get her to NYC but that ended up being a sister trip to see Wicked in December. It was amazing. But somewhere between Miami and Boston, I got the email. I was accepted to be a Peace Corps Trainee, and to get ready because paperwork was coming and it was coming fast. Medical, legal, you name it and I dealt with it. There were multiple times during medical that I was sure I wasn’t going be accepted, but I was. Finally I got my shit slightly together and ate a whole lot of garbage American food, then said my goodbyes.

Then came PST and “You can do hard things” became both my supportive mantra and my sarcastic reply to pretty much all of life’s problem. The support in Peace Corps Thailand is amazing because as they said before “You now have over 50 friends you don’t have to explain your decision to” and they were right. 50+ new friends and I’ve got to say I’m pretty close to the happiest I’ve ever been. Despite my 7 mile bike ride into town and 7 mile ride back home, despite the dogs chasing me, and despite that one really bad bike fall that managed to break two of my tires. PST flew by, I cried saying goodbye to everyone especially my host family. My host family in Suphan Buri were easily the kindest people I’ve met. From day one, I felt nothing but pure appreciation because how grand do you have to be to allow someone into your home and treat them as you would your own child. I felt at home with my host family and no matter what they will now be part of my family and I will be a part of theirs.

Now is Peace Corps all doves and rainbows. No. It gets tough. I’m in the first week of site, and I’ve never experienced a loneliness like I do on my days off because honestly try as I might I’m pretty much situated in the middle of nowhere, and despite the language training I’m not good enough at Thai to have a proper conversation. But that’s part of it. The Americans fade and suddenly you’re the only Farang in your town. But the joy I feel when I walk into my school and say “Hello” to my students and hearing them respond is unimaginable. You find yourself appreciating the small successes rather than the big ones. Today my success was finally having students feel comfortable enough to walk in and hang out in my (Work in Progress) classroom. Did we speak much? No. But they did enjoy the time there dancing to Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Wonder, they did enjoy my cactus named Groot, and they did enjoy hearing me say “Rohn Mak” (very hot) and that’s what matters to me. i

When I was still in PST I said “everything will be better once we get to site” and here I am. Is it better? Not necessarily. It’s just a new challenge that I am eager to tackle.

Meeting the world my way