A new queen’s taking the Reigns!

Last night I had the spectacular opportunity to attend a “listening party” that was really more of a small, intimate gig at YouTube Spaces here in NYC for an amazing “new” artist you are going to want to check out.

Emily Estefan.

Yes, as in Emilio and Gloria’s baby girl – not such a baby anymore! Emily is an amazing musician in her own right, and I feel fortunate to have gotten in on the ground floor so to speak – being kind of there when it all starts for her. Because this girl is going places!

She’s just released her first album – Take Whatever You Want – which is available pretty much wherever you get music these days. Emily wrote all the songs and performs everything except the horns on the album. And best of all, no auto-tuning! Which means there is not that shock of “I thought she sounded like…” when you see her live like you get with so many performers releasing albums today who depend on that auto-tuning in the studio. It’s a mix of styles and stories, but it’s all Emily.

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But before you think “Oh, Gloria Estefan’s daughter. I know what she’ll sound like and what the music will be like,” STOP! Yes, in songs like Ask Me To there are overtones reminiscent of her mother, she is definitely her own singer. And the songs translate just as well live as on the album.

She kicked off the gig with a song that really speaks to her being her own person with her own thoughts and ideas – “F#ck To Be”. And yes, unless you have the edited single she DOES say the word. But it works.

She moved on to the first song on the album “Ask Me To” which she explained is sort of a letter from who she was then (the album was largely written and recorded three years ago) to who she is now. I’ve loved it from first listen, but knowing the story made it even more.

Ditto “Purple Money” which she explained was sort of born of this having been born with certain privileges and living with that while not taking advantage of it. (Which she did not – she got her contract all on her own.)

She also did some covers like “Where or When” which was spectacular. She had a mega-mix of musical heroes – everyone from Alanis to Whitney Houston to, yes, even her mom with a smidge of “Dr. Beat” in there.

Her original song “Take 5” is an anthem to women’s rights, and it has quickly become one of my favorites on the album. (My other one, which she didn’t perform last night, is “It’s OK” which is sort of a “single and proud of it” anthem.)

During the show Emily played drums, and guitar. She has a band that includes a keyboardist, two additional percussionists (one who, yes, plays the congas at times), a bassist, background vocalists, a trombonist (FEMALE! woohoo!!!), and a trumpet player. And they are fantastic!

The whole evening was amazing from the space – which is totally NYC/Chelsea cool with light wood and exposed brick – to the fact that when Emily got to the stage and saw us standing behind these red rope lines immediately said “What’s up with that? Do we have to have it?” so that it was just a super chill, super intimate evening. It’s not up on YouTube that I can find yet, but I’ll post the link when I do find it.

In the meantime, here are some pics from last night…

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And she was super gracious in hanging out and talking with us after the show.

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So yeah. Awesome end to a snow day yesterday! Thank you Emily for an amazing show! I cannot wait to follow your career as you grow even more in your art!

Definitely check Emily out. And like her album says…Take Whatever You Want from it! 🙂

Finally! (or My Long-Overdue Trip Report from Cuba)

I know, I know! I’ve been back for over a month now!! I’m sorry it took me so long to get this blog up, but first I was still processing everything and then life got in the way. But finally, here it is!

As long as I can remember from when I first learned about it, I’ve been fascinated by Cuba. No, I wasn’t alive during Bay of Pigs or anything, but the whole idea of an island so close and yet so far just fascinated me. I knew our governments had major tensions and that we were not able to go there – at least without a lot of red tape and restrictions. And I knew that people would risk their lives to come here. I knew that many people HAD come here to escape from the Castro regime. Admittedly most of what I knew about Cuba and the Cuban people came from history books – and we all know that our history books are written from our point-of-view.

But still I was fascinated by Cuba and always wanted to be able to go.

And then I discovered a little show on Broadway called On Your Feet! which is the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan – two Cuban immigrants themselves. Seeing the show and reading Emilio’s book only increased my fascination and desire to go.

I knew there were some ways, but the primary one I knew about was through a company that organized a people-to-people group to run the Havana Marathon. And, well, we know how I feel about running. In spite of this blog’s name, it is NOT in my repertoire any longer   – except what they make us do in the dojang sometimes. So it remained a dream.

And then President Obama announced that things were changing and there was going to be more openness. And I started hearing about a little one-ship cruise line called fathom that would operate under the Carnival umbrella and do “impact travel” where there would be weekly alternating itineraries to the Dominican Republic for service projects and Cuba for people to people (P2P) interaction. And I started investigating.

I already had my Mediterranean/Venice cruise booked for the summer and couldn’t really afford another big trip (the Cuban cruises were significantly more than the DR cruises – largely because so many people DO want to get to Cuba), so the summer was out. I’d already invited my parents on a Disney cruise over Presidents’ Week which was another Cuba option, so that was out. My Spring Break week was a DR itinerary, so that was out – at least for Cuba. There were weeks on either side of my birthday in the summer but… It was pretty clear what could happen politically in November, and I didn’t want to risk waiting until then in case worst-case happened (which it did). So that left Christmas week.

I hesitated for a bit trying to figure out how to tell my parents that I wanted to go on a trip over Christmas, but finally did. They were supportive of my decision and encouraged me to go. So I paid my deposit and then the full fare, booked my airfare and hotel for the night before, and started dreaming and planning.

And soon, Christmas Eve was here and I was boarding a plane to Miami!!!

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Christmas Morning finally dawned. I got up and got some breakfast (limited of course by me being Gluten Free – though I had picked up some food at Estefan Kitchen Express in the Miami Airport before taking the shuttle to the hotel), then FaceTimed with my parents and sister before checking out and waiting for my Lyft to the port.

That ride was a bit of an adventure. My driver not only really didn’t speak English, he was not sure how to get to the port and was either incapable or unwilling to use his GPS, so I finally busted out my phone and used mine to get us there. (His tip and rating reflected this as did my comments.)

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First sighting of the Adonia. She is a small little ship – 704 passengers IF sailing full. She was close to full on my sailing – at least there were no cabins to upgrade into. There was a large Jewish singles group on the sailing, but I don’t know what percentage of them stayed solo and what percentage doubled up Being Christmas, there were some families on board, but the children were largely older – I think the age limit for fathom is 8 or 9. Being Christmas, the other cruise lines seem to have altered their schedules so that there was no embarkation or disembarkation on Christmas or New Year’s, so we were the only ship in port both days.

I went in and got checked in then wandered around until my boarding group (4) was called. While in the terminal I did meet my friend Rusty (we’d “met” in a FaceBook group for fathom) and his husband Mike.

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We had discussed my love for On Your Feet! and Gloria Estefan, and Rusty pulled out a present their house had come up with for me…

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Apparently their house has this way of things they have no clue about appearing when the subject comes up – and this was one of those cases. Neither Rusty nor Mike remembered ever having this, but one evening when packing they turned around and it was on a table. Freaky!! But totally cool!!

Finally my boarding group was called and I made my way on board!!

First impressions… The ship is ADORABLE! Very small and homey feeling. I was nervous about being on such a small ship since my “size of choice” is Dream Class on Disney or Radiance Class on Royal and the Adonia is considerably smaller. Here are a few pictures of her interior…

15726512_10154570734776321_2185250515557119090_nThis was the main staircase. Yes, it is modeled after the one on Titanic.

31763685930_6229d54445_z  This is the “lobby” area – the desk is where the Impact Guides are based. (I’ll explain them in a moment.)

31763694120_0a4b0cb272_z1 These are the shops. They mainly carry locally-sourced things OR products that do good for the world and the environment.

I really thought I had more pictures of the ship… I’ll keep looking.

Then I got my first drink on board and perched in a birdcage chair for a little while…

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And soon it was time to go back to my cabin and get ready for Muster Drill…

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Yes. The Adonia is old school when it comes to Muster. The ship is divided into either the lounge or the dining room – so you’re inside – and you are to wear/take your life vest and any meds and things you cannot be without when reporting.

Then it was time to go up on deck and say Adios to Miami for a week!

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While we were sailing away, there were activities with the Impact Guides to get us into the swing of things and get ready to Travel Deep!

Ok, so there are a couple of terms I should probably explain…

Impact Guides – Think “Cruise Staff” on other lines. Or camp counselors for grown-up camp. 🙂 The Impact Guides are responsible for all the programming on board – Spanish language classes, book club, lectures on the cities we would be visiting or aspects of the Cuban culture (like Santería), dance classes, or other things like Visual Storytelling or Travelers of Fathom. They were all super cool people! They also went along on our fathom-organized P2P experiences to make sure everything was copacetic.

Impact Travel – This one more applies to the Dominican Republic cruises, but it’s basically what it sounds like – travel that makes an impact. On the DR routes, it’s literal – making water filters or pouring concrete floors. On the Cuba routes, it’s more the P2P impact – that impact that comes from one-to-one interaction with the people there.

Travel Deep – The catchphrase of fathom. It’s a reminder to go beneath the surface, to explore, to dig a little deeper.

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This one really spoke to me – I’ll explain further later.

So… At sea we were. And the first signal that this is a SMALL ship became evident in that we were definitely feeling the motion of the ocean. Me? I loved it! Others, not so much. But still, it was wonderful to be back at sea!!

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I got ready for dinner in my little ocean view cabin (I really thought I had other pictures of it, but I can’t find them) and headed up. It’s not at assigned times, but generally you just get seated as you come – usually being seated with others – though one night I did snag a table to myself by asking.

Being gluten-free was not quite as easy on a small ship as on the larger ones – but apparently I could have asked for more than just selecting from the marked entrees…that just wasn’t made clear to me and I didn’t want to be “that person”. I’ll know for next time. (Again, more on that later…) Still, I didn’t go hungry and the food was pretty good.

The first full day was a sea day, so I went to some classes and chilled.

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Chilling included a cafecito – which became a morning ritual! YUM!!!

That night was VERY rocky (LOVE!!!), and it was also Wine and Paint Night. (This is an optional, extra-fee thing that is very limited. Offered twice on the Cuban itineraries.)

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Yep – I’m that talented. I painted myself before we even got started. Or got wine.

But I managed to make a pretty nice picture (which I gave to my friend Ana and she has in her dressing room!)…

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Around 4:30 the next morning, we passed Guantanamo…

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I didn’t set an alarm – I just woke up and saw it. Snapped the pic and went back to bed.

A little later – after daybreak – we began to see the entry to Santiago’s bay…

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We were “assigned” groups to help with debarkation so that customs and the currency exchange wouldn’t be overwhelmed.

A couple of notes here…

When you are going through passport control, there are body scanners, and if they indicate that you have a temperature above…I think 99 you have to go through a medical inspection. I didn’t have to, but I did see one person pulled aside in Cienfuegos.

When exchanging currency, you are better off if you’ve exchanged your US dollars into Euros as there is an additional 10% exchange fee tacked onto US Dollars.

Once through both of those, the Impact Guides give you a numbered sticker and direct you to your bus. They do not stuff them – there is a max of about 30 people on any given bus. And you’re not on the bus for the entire time.

I’ll just post some pics from the tour with what they are, and I’ll link to my whole album at the end of the entry.

31913844172_f0c9260a09_z Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs – pronounced “kooks”). They have buildings or monuments on them. This is the currency tourists use. Cuban citizens typically use Cuban Pesos (CUPs – pronounced “coops”). One CUC is about 25 CUPs, so guides and drivers make a LOT more from tips and tourist payments than they do from their government jobs. TIP YOUR GUIDES AND DRIVERS!!!

31251960093_8ca05dd72a_z I have a Cuban Stamp in my passport!!! (Actually two as I got another one in Havana!!)

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31687403330_e2ed3bfa19_z San Juan Hill

El Morro (the fort that guards the entrance to Santiago

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Then we went to a beach club for a Cuban meal (different buses went to different places)…

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And there were puppies!!!!

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But this was also where the first real culture shock hit. Because right next to this beach club was this…

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People lived here!

Then it was back into Santiago for our cultural exchange. We got to see and hear the Coro Madrigalista, which is one of the oldest choral groups in the country. They were really good.

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Then we walked down to a park and could shop for rum and/or cigars and/or do some exploring. I did buy some rum (a gift, and some for me to use on ship with diet Coke – yes, you read that right…they did NOT take your rum purchases when you boarded the ship in Cuba!!), then I went exploring a little.

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Then we walked back to meet the bus and head back to the ship.

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Around noon the next day, we began our entry into Cienfuegos.

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We did another bus and walking tour…

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Then we went to the theatre and had another choral concert.

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Then it was back to the ship. We had another sea day, and then early the following morning we began approaching Havana.

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On our first day in Havana (we were there overnight) I opted to take the tour to Las Terrazas. Las Terrazas is a UNESCO biosphere community of 1000 people. There are artisans who live there. The community has two doctors – usually ones who are doing their state service after completing medical school – and the number of people allowed in each day is limited. They also grow all of their own food and animals. Here are a few pictures.

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32097431505_e87cdcf7ee_z Yes, there is a macaque who lives there. Her mate did just after she had a baby. She rejected the baby – who is in the care of the vet – and she is now probably back at the Havana Zoo in exchange for a new pair.

We had lunch and then went to the ruins of a French coffee plantation…

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We drove back to Havana and I wandered a little before getting ready to go out for the night.

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I had made reservations for a car to take me to the Hotel Nacional where I had dinner at La Barraca and went to the Cabaret Parisien.

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Then it was back to the ship to sleep.

The next morning, I got up and decided to be brave and head out on my on. First thing…rented a car and driver for an hour tour…

31734610590_396dac1dce_z Like a proper diva! (And yes, I matched the car.)

31961803272_e9b98496c5_z Yes, their capitol building is modeled on ours. But 3 inches larger.

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I took a Coco Taxi (it’s like a little bubble motorized scooter “cab”)

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and went to Callejon de Hamel de La Habana – a street known for Santería. And cool folk art.

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31992227951_27f3380560_z My guide Miko

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Then I rented another car to go over to the fort and El Cristo de La Habana.

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Then it was time to get back on the ship and wave adios to Havana (aka La Habana) and Cuba…

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That night was New Year’s Eve, but I was boring and was in bed before midnight. I sleep so well on ships, and it had been a full week.

Early the next morning it was Bienvenidos a Miami once again…

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Once I disembarked and had my luggage, I gave Lyft another try to the airport and had an amazing driver – this one got full tip and full marks! I had a while to kill at the airport, so I got some food and Cuban coffee at Estefan Kitchen Express, hung out with Rusty and Mike for a while as they were waiting for their flight, and did airport laps before boarding my plane home.

I knew seeing and experiencing Cuba had affected me. There was define culture shock. We would pass buildings that here in the US would be abandoned but our guides proudly told us “That is our pedagogical college!” or “That is our medical school!” The hospitals – and the nurses – looked like images of hospitals from the 50s. In so many ways the country is trapped in the 50s or early 60s.

In Havana, there is beautiful architecture, but behind some of the facades are crumbling buildings. And some of the facades are crumbling even while showing the splendor they once held.

The people don’t have much at all by our standards, and yet generally they seem happy. Our guides spoke glowingly of “The Revolution” and how good things are. They don’t know any different, and so I do believe that many of them are happy. They have been told a different version of the history between our countries from what we have – the books of course are written from different points of view.

But the people are some of the warmest and most generous people I’ve met. The little girl I took a picture of – I got to speak a little with her mother. She was wonderful and so welcoming. The same can be said for all the people we met. They love Americans – and not just because we come and spend money. Many of the people genuinely want to talk with us and interact with us.

I mentioned earlier how I thought On Your Feet! gave me some insight before going. And it did inform my trip. And I truly felt that I was carrying the whole cast in my heart as I was journeying into the country that many of them come from either directly or ancestrally. But my trip has now informed how I see the show as well. I entered the lottery for a ticket the Tuesday I was back, and I won. And I spent much of the show in tears because I *got* it. I still cannot get through “Mi Tierra” without crying. And that’s a beautiful thing.

I am so thankful that I did get to go and experience Cuba – not the same as being on the ground, but more than many ships will get as the harbors/bays for Santiago and Cienfuegos are so small most of today’s ships will not be able to get in.

I’m thankful I was able to go before Cuba turns into “just another Caribbean island” with its Diamonds International and del Sol and Señor Frogs.

I’m thankful I was able to go before January 20 happened – because God only knows what is going to happen now.

And I’m so thankful I was able to go before fathom as a cruise line ceases to exist – which will happen at the end of May. The Cuba cruises were selling well, but the DR cruises not so much. They were always significantly less expensive and significantly less full. And so the Adonia will go back to P&O – and some of the impact activities in the DR will be offered as excursions on Carnival Corp cruises that go to Amber Cove.

I am lucky in that I will get to return to Santiago for a day over Spring Break! I had decided to book the DR – before we learned that fathom will cease to exist – and was super excited for that. And then about a week before Christmas, we got notification that beginning towards the end of this month, most of the DR cruises are being turned into “Cultures of the Caribbean” cruises which will visit Santiago AND the DR! I’m excited to do my own P2P thing this time – rent a car and driver and see things I didn’t get to see before.

I’ve only scratched the surface of this experience in this blog entry. You can see all my pictures (over 1000) in this album

They say that travel changes you. And I can say 100% that I am not the same person who left JFK on Christmas Eve after this experience. I’ve been changed for the better. And for good.

 

Moving forward…or beginning to…

So, like everyone who supported Hillary, I realize that I’ve been going through the classic 5 stages of grief. Well, possibly 4 – I may have skipped one… I’ll explain.

Stage 1 – Denial

I don’t really think I have to say much to explain this. Sitting there, looking at the screens watching the results come in and just going “No! No! This is NOT happening! This is NOT my country!” Other things that happen in Denial? You go numb, you’re in shock. Remember how I wrote about how silent everything was even when I knew there should be sound? Numb. Denial.

Stage 2 – Anger

Again, I don’t think I need to say much here. I was pissed as hell. Pissed that so many of the people in this country seem to think that I shouldn’t exist. That friends and family shouldn’t exist. That friends who are immigrants or 1st or even 2nd generation should leave. That friends of other faiths should be kicked out. That men have the right to grab me or otherwise invade my body. And so on.

Stage 3 – Bargaining

This is the one I’m not sure I really hit. Looking at the classic definition for it, I don’t recall consciously saying anything like “I will do X if I can just wake up and find out this was all a nightmare.” I suppose the questioning of if there was anything else I could have done – like, “What if I had sucked up my fear of calling someone to have the spouse burst into tears because the person I was calling for had died (that actually happened to me when I was volunteering on a gubernatorial campaign before – I’ve avoided phone banks ever since) and done phone banking?”. Looking at the explanations on grief.com I guess things like that would fall in the bargaining stage.

Stage 4 – Depression

All my tears on Wednesday are all the explanation that is needed for this one.

Stage 5 – Acceptance

This is where I am now. To be clear, that does not mean I think it’s ok. Here is what grief.com says in its explanation…

“Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case. … We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live.”

So yeah. I’ll never be ok with what has happened – and what likely will happen. But I am beginning to accept that this IS the reality in which we are living, and I’m looking at what I can do for myself and others to help where I can.

Thursday morning, the sun began to rise. The rain and crappy weather of Wednesday was over. And again, music hit where I needed it to. First song that popped up when I hit shuffle on my iPod? Gloria Estefan’s “Coming Out of the Dark”. And it just felt right.

When I got to school, I looked at youtube on my phone for a video. One of the first that I found scrolling down the list was one of Ana Villafañe, who plays Gloria in On Your Feet! performing the song at the White House! Perfection.

I’ve also gotten myself back to the dojang, and that has helped a lot. Master Lim and I had a good talk last night, so that was awesome. And kicking and punching things that I’m ALLOWED to kick and punch has helped a lot. (Ok, so I may be picturing someone’s face…or certain parts of his anatomy…on the pads. But it’s LEGAL!)

And I have started re-reading the Harry Potter series. Because it’s comfort readings – and ultimately good does triumph. As of now I’m just into the second book, but in the first book, there were two quotes that hit me as so relevant. Both by Dumbledore.

1 ~ “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” – Albus Dumbledore

Excellent advice. And so I’m looking at how I do that.

One way is participating in the Safety Pin movement. Safety Pin movement

Another way is taking care of myself. Getting my butt back on the mats – mainly dojang but also yoga hopefully.

And another is looking for ways to help. Help those agencies who will be affected and/or will be potentially at risk under the new administration. I already have monthly recurring donations that go to Human Rights Campaign and Emily’s List. I am planning to add Lambda Legal, Planned Parenthood, and at least one other organization that works with environmental causes or immigrant causes. Possibly both…I just need to check the budget. (I also have plans to make donations to PP, Lambda, Emily’s List, and at least one other organization ON January 20 in Trump and Pence’s names – and putting their mailing address in for the acknowledgement letter.)

My friend Cristen and I are working on our own list for the First 100 Days. It’s in its infancy stages right now, but once it’s a little more firmed up I’ll share it.

The second is about using the name of that which terrifies us.

2 ~ “Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” ~ Albus Dumbledore

I freely admit I had taken to saying “The Orange Chupacabra” (cribbed from the El Bloombito twitter during one of the debates. But… I need to stop. I need to say “Trump” – and I suppose “Pence”. I don’t have to say “president” or “vice president” along with the names though.

And so slowly I do feel like I’m coming out of the dark. I’m not stupid – I know the stages are a cycle. And I suspect I’ve still got some cycling left to do – I expect that there will be another strong cycle around January 20. But with my friends and family – and my action plan – I will make it.

We all will make it.

Have faith my friends!

And… Wands up!

 

Crashing through the looking glass…

Yesterday.

It was only yesterday morning.

Thirty seven hours ago.

I left my apartment and walked down the block and halfway down the next to my polling site. Not realizing the workers had let people in to wait in the heated school lobby, I started a line out front along with a woman who I struck up a conversation with.

She is originally from Sri Lanka. I don’t know how long ago she immigrated, but she had been content to be a legal resident for years.

Until this election cycle.

She said “I saw what was happening. I knew I had to have a voice. I got my citizenship, and they registered us to vote right then. This is my first time voting in this country. I have to vote to say he is not right.”

Such hope.

The same hope I remember having when I cast my first ballot – absentee because I was in college – in 1992 for Bill Clinton.

The same hope I walked in with yesterday.

The same hope I had for most of the day yesterday.

After voting I headed to our professional development and eagerly awaited 2:50 or whenever our principal let us leave – whichever came first. There was an energy in the air. There was hope. There was electricity. There was excitement.

We got released, and I bolted to the subway to head straight into Manhattan. Straight to the Javits center. Because I had a golden ticket (well, yellow) to what should have been a night of elation and celebration and confirmation that our hope was not misguided.

Over an hour in a holding pen waiting to be shepherded through metal detectors and finally we were in the Javits Center. There was some upsetness at learning that we were *only* going to be in the lobby watching everything on screens (and more than one of us wished we were outside at the block party), but soon we got caught up in the excitement permeating the air.

The very early numbers came in, and we all said we weren’t worried. Those were little states and were going as expected. But then…

Then the gap started widening. States started turning dark red. Some expected, some not.

Then states that should have been – and were – at least light blue were turning light red.

I started having flashbacks to 2000.

This couldn’t really be happening, could it? There could not be this much racism, misogyny, homophobia, and general hatred of the “other” in this nation could there?

Could there?

But the maps became redder and redder.

The atmosphere went from electric to deflated.

At some point midway through the deflation, volunteers started passing out flags. I had one for a little while.

But…

The more I saw on the news, the more I heard when they were talking about what was happening, the more I knew that I could not sit there holding this thing that honestly I’m not sure I can put any faith in anymore.

So I left. I was not the first, and I was not alone.

But I wanted out of there.

Walking outside, even walking by the block party area, it was eerily quiet. Like, a quiet that I’ve only experienced when out in nature somewhere far from the city. Way too quiet for New York City.

I do wonder if part of that was just how numb I’d let myself get watching everything because even the busses coming from the Port Authority seemed quieter than usual.

I got on the subway – the 7 train. The platform was eerily silent. The train was eerily silent. And the same silence carried over to the Court Square Station, the G platform, and the G train. Eerily silent. And everyone on the train (none of whom were people I had seen leaving the Javits Center) looked shell shocked.

I tried my best to hold my tears in until I got into my apartment, and I kind of succeeded. But the moment I got to my stairs, the sobs started.

I turned on the tv – I couldn’t resist – and just sat there with tears rolling down my eyes as a true fear began to spread in my heart and my gut.

Fear for myself as a woman.

Fear for myself as a lesbian.

Fear for my LGBTQ friends and family.

Fear for my brown-skinned friends (of ALL shades).

Fear for my Muslim friends.

Fear for my Jewish friends.

Fear for my Hindu friends

Fear for my atheist and agnostic friends.

Fear for my non-evangelical friends.

Fear for my female friends.

Fear for my differently-abled friends.

Fear for my immigrant friends.

Fear for my Latino/Latina/Latinx friends.

Fear for the country I thought I knew.

I changed into my pajamas and climbed in bed, turning off the television but knowing even so that sleep would be fitful if it came at all.

My baby kitty Emilimo jumped up on the bed and snuggled under my hand and lay there, just purring as I pet him and pet him while I cried. He never pawed at me. He never mouthed me. He just let me pet him. And purred.

Somehow I did manage to get some sleep. I turned on the news and discovered that there was no miracle. Nothing had changed.

Which meant everything had changed. To co-opt a title from Hamilton, The World Turned Upside Down.

At that point, the gut-wracking sobs came.

We were supposed to have shattered the glass ceiling.

Instead, I literally felt as if I had been flung through the looking glass, and the shards were piercing my body.

My Facebook status this morning? “I will go high eventually. But today I will wear black.”

Today I will grieve. Today I NEED to grieve.

I knew we had a field trip today, and as such I needed to go and not call out, so I tried to pull it together. My one small blessing in this nightmare we awoke to is that the children I work with are not at the level where they have any comprehension of what just happened. I have many other friends who are not that fortunate and who DID have to face not only children who wonder what happened, but in some cases children who will now live in fear that they will be removed from this country any day now (or even worse get home from school and discover that their parents have been removed from this country).

I got to school and went into a colleague’s room where we tried to comfort each other. I made it through the field trip, which thankfully was active and fun. I made it almost to the end of the day when I saw a family text from my mom (who I’m fairly sure was Republican for most of my life – but politics was never really discussed in that way other than the occasional “I guess we cancelled each other out” exchange between Mom and Daddy on election days when I was little): “Wow! What a shock we’ve all experienced!! –but we will get through this and move on! Love you both very much!!” which had me fighting tears until I could leave.

I walked to the subway, fully intending to go to forms class tonight. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew I was too raw to face someone I knew I’d have to. It’s too soon. And so I decided to practice some self-care and take the night off. Hopefully tomorrow I will be stronger – and at the very least I know for Thursday night’s class there will be kicking and/or punching.

Walking from one subway to another, I realized I had my iPod in my bag, so I got it out and just put it on random.

And then I got another example of the universe giving us what we need at the time we need it no matter the method of that delivery. Most of the time for me it comes in the form of music, and today it was no exception. The first song that popped up…

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Gloria Estefan’s “Nayib’s Song (I Am Here For You)”…

Lyrics…

Lately my son I’ve been confused
Don’t know what to tell you
‘Cause it’s all such bad news
Lately my son I’ve been discouraged
I look around and it fills me with worry
What kind of world can I offer to you
Where will it all lead,
Do we have the sense to make it through
I’ve tried to figure it out, to have an answer
I can tell to you
But all I can see, all I can see

I am here for you, and you are here for me
It’s an ongoing process (ongoing process)
I will take care of you and you will take care of me
If we’re gonna make some progress

Lately my son I feel ashamed
For many things that have happened
And are happening again
Really my son I thought we’d learn
From what I see around me it’s a very tough world
But all I can hope is that you take it as a challenge
To create something new that will take you far
I know that you can manage
To scatter some hope, ’cause it’s not too late
To repair the damage
The way it should be, so easy to see

That I am here for you (here for you)
You are here for me (you’re here for me)
It’s an ongoing process (ongoing process), ongoing process
I will take care of you (take care of you)
You will take care of me (care of me)
If we’re gonna make some progress

You gotta believe
Never be afraid to dream
But following through
‘Cause it won’t get done unless it comes from you
You gotta make it all work
For the ones that are coming after you
Though odd it may seem, you gotta believe

I am here for you (here for you)
You are here for me (you’re here for me)
It’s an ongoing process (ongoing process)
I will take care of you (take care of you)
You will take care of me (care of me)
If we’re gonna make some progress

I am here for you (here for you)
(Here for me)
It’s an ongoing process (ongoing process)
I will take care of you (take care of you)
(Care of me)
If we’re gonna make some progress

I am here for you (here for you)
You are here for me (you’re here for me)
Ongoing process
I will take care of you (take care of you)
You will take care of me (care of me)
If we’re gonna make some progress

More tears, but this time they felt more healing than grieving. More moving forward than wallowing. Baby steps out of the utter darkness.

We’ve got a long way to go. But I have faith that together love will ultimately triumph over hate. That ultimately good will conquer evil. That deep down we ARE better than what the electoral college showed.

I’m still hurting. I still feel like I was – like we were – flung through the looking glass, and that the shards are embedded in me, in us. But gradually we’ll pull out the shards, and I believe that from the broken can come something even more beautiful.

I have to. I don’t have any other choice.

Love and hugs to everyone feeling fear, hurt, anger, confusion, and/or isolation because of what happened yesterday. You are not alone. We are not alone. We will rise and make life on this side of the looking glass even better.

I’m just going to close with embedding a  video for Gloria’s song.

Namaste my friends…

 

If I Never Got To Tell You… Music and Its Power

Saturday morning I decided to enter the ticket lottery for “On Your Feet!” because I was really wanting to see it (even though I had tickets for Sunday, I knew it was going to be an emotional show (more than normal)…more on that later). The lottery had reportedly been tougher to win last week (that’s a good thing) and reportedly the seats were pretty much all in the mezzanine (a VERY good thing because it means the orchestra is pretty much sold!!). I myself had lost Thursday and Friday night. So I really didn’t know if I was going to win.

But I did!

And yes, my seat was in the mezzanine, but it was GREAT to see the theatre almost filled!!! (This amazing show DESERVES full houses every performance!!!)

The cast was on fire, and I was in my happy place! When it was over, I started down to the stage door area.

As I turned my phone from airplane mode to on, it popped up.

A CNN notification.

“At least 25 injured in an explosion in New York”

And nothing would load on my phone! The Marriott Marquis is notoriously iffy on cell service in certain places because of all the steel. Intellectually I know that, but I was freaking out trying to get information.

New York CITY? Most likely since they didn’t give a city. But where? How close was I to whatever was going on?

Finally it loaded and I saw the details as we had them then – in Chelsea, so close, but not right there. I immediately left a message on my mom’s cell phone and my parents’ home phone that I was fine and had not been in the immediate area. And recorded an instagram video to post to let friends know. And posted on Facebook that I was ok – as well as responding to some posts either to my wall or tags.

Doreen Montalvo, one of my favorite people in the world, was one of the first ones out. She’s on as Gloria’s mother through October 2, and I LOVE her in this role. She has really been allowed to make it hers when she is on, and it’s wonderful to watch her. Everyone was all “Please be safe” and she was no exception. As we were talking and she was talking to the people next to me, she took my hand and squeezed it. That might have been when a fire truck was turning the corner and honking at someone and I jumped about a mile in the air, but I’m not positive. Then as she was leaving saying she was walking home and not getting on the subway, she hugged me tight and made me promise to tweet when I got home safely.

A little later, Luis Salgado – one of the uber-talented dancers who is first and foremost an amazing human being (who am I kidding? pretty much everyone involved with this show is an amazing human being!!) – came out and came over and hugged me close. We were chatting and he noticed some friends next to me, so he excused himself for a moment to talk with them, then asked if they wanted to go backstage. They started to go, and he looked at me and said “You’re coming too!” So in we all trooped. Ektor Rivera was taking pictures with Ana Villafañe and her guests in the entrance area, but Luis grabbed him to come to the stage with us. It was super cool to see the theatre from that angle. Plus seeing them and getting their hugs really helped to calm me down. They are awesome!!

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Ektor then “kidnapped” me to give me my art. In addition to being a great actor and singer (and all-around fantastic human being) he is an amazing visual artist! Check his work out here!! And I had bought a reproduction – my first grown-up art!! He’d emailed me it was ready and I’d said I would get it at the theatre. Plan was Sunday, but he had it on Saturday. So back we went to his dressing room for the art.

I got the grand tour too – including seeing “the shorts” (if you know the play…or the story of Gloria and Emilio’s first meeting that makes sense) and we chatted for a few minutes. Including Ektor helping translate something Ana says in the date scene that my friend and I could never figure out how to spell to see what it means. Then we headed out.

Ana came out a few minutes later, and it’s always great to see her and chat even if she’s on vocal rest and mouthing the words. We joked about how the bartender had made me sing for my drink that night – I selected “Bojito Is Gonna Get You”, and he said “Ok, but you have to sing…” I protested and said Ana does it so much better than I ever could. But finally gave in and sang the first bit a la the show opening. I think it kind of surprised him that I actually did it. But I still had to pay for it!! 😛

I headed home – I took the 7 to the G so that I would avoid the area where the bomb – and then a second device – was. But it took a while to calm down – the swing from nearly hysterical to being super happy and all warm and fuzzy inside, then being hyper aware of everything on my way home really had me worked up.

Sunday I got up, went to Taekwondo, came home and showered and got ready and headed into Manhattan (again via the G and 7) for dinner at Havana Central and the evening performance of On Your Feet! – which was going to be Luis’ last show with the company. I’d purposely bought A2 because I knew I’d be up close AND I was on the aisle so I could conga with David Baida because I promised him I would! And it was fun!! 🙂

The cast was totally fired up, and the show was amazing!! There are some spots I can pretty much predict I’ll tear up every time and others surprise me. Obviously with it being a musical those moments are usually part of the music. But not always – one scene early on between Gloria’s mother and father – who at that point was in a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis and other complications probably due to his service in Vietnam – completely got to me because of the way Doreen and Eliseo were interacting. Beautiful.

The full-out waterworks for me started in Act 2 when Ana sings “Famous” which is the transition into the bus accident (hey, this is a true story…no need for a spoiler warning here!). Following that, in the hospital scene, there is a duet between Gloria’s mother and Emilio that is always beautiful and moving. It is the one original number in the show, and it was co-written by Gloria and her and Emilio’s daughter Emily. The show’s story ends prior to Emily’s birth, but this is a super cool way for her to be “in” the show.

The song’s title is “If I Never Got To Tell You”, and as it suggests, it’s about saying all the things we mean to but never do for whatever reason thinking we’ll always have more time. But as the accident all too painfully demonstrated, you never really truly know. In the song, Gloria’s mom (also named Gloria) sings to her as they have been estranged, Emilio sings both to their son Nayib, and to Gloria, then Gloria’s mom who has been even more estranged from Emilio sings to him as they realize how close they have come to never having another tomorrow.

And the true-life events of the night before in NYC also served as a reminder of that.

And so yes – full-on waterworks. But really in a healing and cathartic way. Which to me is the beauty of music – something as simple as a melody and words can combine to say everything you’re feeling, to break you wide open and let healing light flow over the broken pieces. “If I Never Got To Tell You” is always an emotional point in the show, but last night it was special. Different. Just…MORE.

And I really couldn’t stop crying from that point on – through “I Don’t Want To Lose You Now”, “Reach”, and of course “Coming Out of the Dark”.

And weirdly – but not really given the day – the Mega Mix – the dance party that closes the show and serves as curtain call. I thought I was going to be ok, but I saw tears streaming down Luis’ cheeks and it was all over for me then. He is such a talented dancer and just a warm, kind-hearted human. It’s going to be really weird seeing the show without him in it. But I know the future holds great things for him.

This is kind of rambling I realize. But it’s my attempt at a big huge thank you…

  • To Gloria and Emilio Estefan for sharing their story, their lives, and indeed their hearts with all of us in so many ways. THANK YOU for On Your Feet!!
  • To Gloria and Emily Estefan for writing such a beautiful piece of music in “If I Never Got To Tell You” that simply says it all – and was everything I needed last night.
  • To Ana Villafañe, Ektor Rivera, and the whole cast of On Your Feet! for the magic you make happen in telling a story that is Gloria and Emilio’s but also a little bit of all of us when we struggle to stay true to ourselves and succeed no matter what.
  • To Doreen Montalvo for being awesome and being there on Saturday night!! ❤ ❤
  • To my friends I’ve met through the show! Y’all are awesome!!
  • And finally to Luis Salgado. You have always had a smile and a strong hug for me. I know I tweeted it, but it deserves saying again… They say you never forget your first…so THANK YOU for taking me on my first backstage visit and for bringing light into a pretty dark and scary night Saturday… Thank you for the smiles from stage – and for your kind words all the time. Your son is super lucky to have you for a dad!! Big hugs to him and your wife too!!

There are never any guarantees in life. Don’t lose tomorrow if you need to tell someone what they mean to you. Do it. Now.

Sending love and light to all…

90 Millas…

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Cuba has always been one of those places that has fascinated me.

I can’t really explain why.

True it has up until very recently been “off limits” to US citizens as long as I’ve been alive, but then again, the former Soviet Union and China used to be more off-limits and at least the former Soviet Union never really interested me.

Maybe it’s because learning about it has been something not really done in my education? I mean, I remember learning about stuff with Russia and the former Soviet Union – I even had a class in college on Russian History – Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union – but I don’t remember seeing a class on Cuba. Yes, we learned about Bay of Pigs, but beyond that I learned very little.

My main knowledge of Cuba has been that it’s always been a place that people have risked their lives to escape from.

So it’s been this fascinating mystery place for me.

So close to the US – only 90 miles (90 millas in Spanish) separate Ket West from Havana – but so far away in so many ways. I remember standing here at the southernmost point of the Continental US in Key West and looking in Havana’s direction and marveling at how close we were physically…and yet how far in so many ways.

And then gradually some small things began to happen. My running coach went with a people-to-people program to run a marathon in Havana, and now there is a sponsored P2P trip that runs the marathon.

But running? Not my jam anymore.

And since I’m not a diplomat or anything, there didn’t really seem to be any way to get there.

This desire to go, to experience, to meet the people – most of whom did NOT choose this life they have been forced into – got even stronger after seeing “On Your Feet!” the first time and really seeing in a more first-hand way that there ARE people whose lives, whose families were irrevocably changed by everything that has happened there, that the spirit of these people is so beautiful and their love for their homeland is so great in spite of it all.

And then…

Then things started changing. Relations between the US and Cuba are beginning to “normalize” and new paths to visit are opening. Yes, with very specific situations that require documentation, but things are beginning to open.

One of these things is the launch of fathom impact travel – which does People to People cruises to Cuba and social impact cruises to the Dominican Republic on alternating weeks. I heard about it and started looking into it and exploring possibilities.

I know fathom has its detractors. And I know it will not be perfect. The early sailings have had issues – not all completely unique to this line (MOST lines have issues when they launch new ships and/or brand new ideas). Some people complain that everything is pre-determined in terms of activities (not 100% true…you CAN do your own thing, but the amount of paperwork you have to do to prove that it meets the P2P regulations is pretty extensive) and/or that you HAVE to do these things. (I’m sorry that this is how it is, but for US citizens, you simply cannot go to Cuba and lay on the beach the whole time and have it be legal.)

It’s definitely not a cruise line for everyone – if all you want to do is drink and hang on a beach, it’s NOT the line for you, with either itinerary (which to me makes it all the more interesting that Carnival is the parent company of fathom given Carnival’s reputation as the party line of cruises).

But I do think that it has a lot of potential as there ARE people who want to explore this way and/or give back even while on vacation. Do they need to really figure out how to market is? Of course. If I wasn’t on cruise forums, I don’t know that I would have heard of fathom.

I can’t say how well or poorly fathom does this providing a different kind of vacation experience – but I can say I WANT to experience this and make up my own mind rather than listening to haters on message boards and so forth (ditto anyone who wants to comment on here about how awful it is…that was YOUR experience, please let me have mine and make up my own mind) and deciding that is how things are.

I’m excited about the opportunity. Nervous, yes. But excited!

Visiting this place that has held my imagination for so much of my life hadn’t been a possibility before. But now, suddenly, it is. There is a possibility in front of me – and expensive possibility, but a possibility!

My first thought was Spring Break week – but that is a DR week on fathom’s schedule.

Birthday cruise? Again, the week itself was a DR week, but there was the week before or after.

And then political things became clear in the US, and in addition to the multitude of worries one candidate in particular brings, one thought came into my mind.

“I want to do this before January 20! Just in case…”

So given what I already had planned for this summer, there was only one other week I could consider.

And that week WAS a Cuba itinerary for fathom!

And that week is Christmas.

I knew my dad had brought up me going home for Christmas – or possibly them coming up here. But my sister didn’t know her schedule – and once she did, it’s still not definitive as extensions and changes can happen. And even though Daddy had said “But you’re an adult, and if you’d rather stay there or do something else, that’s fine.” I couldn’t help but be nervous about his reaction if I said what I really wanted to do.

But finally one phone call when the subject of Christmas came up, I brought it up. And he was supportive!

It took a little while until I knew for sure I would be able to do it (long story…had to wait for a settlement check from a class action suit regarding some loans I had to come and see what the amount was), but…

I am officially booked and 100% paid on fathom’s Christmas week cruise to Cuba!!

This cruise is a reverse from their usual route – Havana to Cienfuegos to Santiago de Cuba – so we will go first to Santiago de Cuba then Cienfuegos, then Havana. Round trip from Miami.

Each day we are in port, we will be doing on-ground cultural immersion activities such as touring with a Cuban guide, eating in family-owned and operated restaurants, seeing performances, meeting local artisans and crafts people, etc. We are docked overnight in Havana and will have the opportunity to go to the Tropicana or the Cabaret Parisien through fathom – or the possibility to go elsewhere on your own for the evening. (Right now I’m leaning towards the Cabaret since I will be solo and my Spanish is limited. I’m working on learning with DuoLingo, so we will see, but I’m still learning towards the ship excursions.)

While we are on board we will have enrichment activities such as Cuban films, seminars to learn about Cuba and Cuban culture, and smaller group sessions to debrief and discuss.

It is going to be a vacation unlike any other I’ve been on in my life, but I’m so excited to have this chance!!

Stay tuned!! You’re coming along on this journey for sure!!

The power of music.

As far back as I can remember, music has been a huge part of my life.

Church choir. Recorder. School chorus. Band. Piano lessons. Handbells.

For the longest time I thought I wanted to become a middle school band director. For various reasons I went a different path, but music has continued to be a part of my life.

The power a song can have to encourage you. To take you back to another time. To push you forward. To speak to and for you. It’s really unlike anything else for me.

For me, music is such a part of my life I am not always consciously aware of it until something brings it to the forefront.

Such was the case when I first went to see “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan” back in February.

I was aware that the show was happening. I’d seen the ads on buses and around town. But I will freely admit that I’m not typically one for “jukebox musicals”, so I never really looked into it, assuming that’s what it was.

I would soon find out how wrong I was.

It was during our Presidents’ Week break, and I decided to pretty much enter almost every show lottery. “On Your Feet!” was the first one to close and notify – I had won a ticket and had 60 minutes to purchase it. Which meant I was figuring that I wouldn’t win anything else if I bought it. (A pretty safe bet with “Hamilton” but not necessarily so much with the others.)

Given that it was kind of a random entry, I asked my friends on FaceBook if any of them had seen it and if so what they thought. One of my friends who sees pretty much everything said that she had enjoyed it more than she anticipated, so I bought the ticket and went.

And was hooked from the opening scenes.

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It is not your “typical” jukebox musical at all. Yes, it is all (with one exception – which is a new song co-written by Gloria and her daughter Emily) music from Gloria and the Miami Sound Machine’s catalog, but rather than building a story around the songs (a la “Mamma Mia!”) the songs are interwoven into the story of Gloria and Emilio’s life. And while the story is specific to them, the overarching themes are universal.

Gloria is brilliantly played by Ana Villafañe.

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She sounds uncannily like Gloria, especially when singing. I’ve heard more than one person say “I could have sworn she was lip-synching”.

The first Emilio I was was Josh Segarra

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who was great.

Emilio is currently played by Ektor Rivera

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who has brought a whole other dimension to Emilio.

As the title implies, the story is theirs – obviously some things are tweaked for time and dramatic reasons, but some things have been brought in directly from their story.

The shorts. That’s all that needs to be said there. 😛

I had not realized how much of their music catalog WAS the soundtrack to my life from middle school on up. Some songs I hadn’t even realized WERE Gloria’s at the time, and some are completely new to me.

The book was written by Alexander Dinelaris, and Gloria has said in interviews about the process that she gave him full use of the music catalog. And it is really amazing how well songs from different parts of her career fit into her and Emilio’s story – obviously “Coming Out of the Dark” (which is set in its context in their lives), but also other songs and other times in their life.

For me, one of the most moving scenes is one with Gloria and her father, who at that point was completely bedridden with what was diagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis but was likely a combination of various factors. In pretty much a dream sequence, Fajardo, her father, sings a very early song of hers “When Someone Comes Into Your Life”. Almost invariably this scene brings me to tears because I grew up hearing the story of how the morning after I was born, my dad came to visit my mom and me in the hospital and told my mom he “dreamed about walking [me] down the aisle” (to which my mom said “Let her be a baby!”). I’ve said that if my parents make it up here while the show is running we WILL be coming to see it, but Daddy and I canNOT sit next to each other because it will just be uber waterworks!!

And while the story is specific to them, there are themes that resonate so strongly today… The discrimination that they faced in crossing over from the Latin music scene to the greater music scene in particular. In one scene where this is so apparent, they have been told if they want to cross over, they need to change everything – including their name. Emilio gives an impassioned response about the discrimination he and his father faced when they came to America and how he has worked and paid his taxes for 15 years finishing with “And you should look very closely to my face. Because whether you know it or not, THIS is what an American looks like!”

And that line has gotten cheers and applause every time I’ve seen the show! And rightly so!

The entire cast is stellar, and the choreography by Sergio Trujillo is authentic and yet his own.

In short, this show has touched me in a way that no show has in a long time. The music moves me, and the story touches me.

This entry was in no way solicited by anyone with the show. It’s my own doing and my own feeble attempt to say thank you to Gloria and Emilio for sharing their story; to Ana and Ektor and the rest of the cast for bringing the story to life 8 times a week and pouring their hearts and souls into it – and for opening themselves to the fans of the show. I’ve seen it 8 times so far – yes, most were through the lottery but a couple of them have been regular tickets (as are a couple of times coming up). That’s how much I believe in the show. (And trust me – 8 times is NOTHING compared to some!!) The crowd at the stage door is as varied as they come – in age and in cultural background. You don’t have to be Latino/Latina/LatinX to understand or be touched by the story – you just have to be human.

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13669834_10154139890226321_7509223588687165977_nwith Gloria and Emilio at Broadway Barks

13686742_10154103679641321_2920275287136795836_nwith Ana and Ektor after the show one night in July

Seriously – if you’re in New York, do yourself a favor and go see this show!! It’s at the Marquis in New York. For information, check the website: On Your Feet!

The rhythm will get you too!