Milagros (Miracles)

Easter, on the fire escape in Brooklyn ca. 1955

Easter, on the fire escape in Brooklyn
ca. 1955

Today would have been my (maternal) grandmother's 82nd birthday. She died (in a blizzard) 7 years before I was born (in a blizzard) but even without knowing her I felt a strong connection from the moment I learned her name.

Esther Milagros Colón moved from southern Puerto Rico to Manhattan, and then Brooklyn, with her sister and mother in the late 1940s. She was just a teenager then but managed to finish school, find love (or at least, lovers?), and work—first in the garment district and later at The New Yorker Hotel. In the late 50s she fled an abusive marriage to give birth to my mom in Maine where she found work cleaning houses. A man who owned one of those houses that she cleaned became her husband—and my mom's dad—and they soon had two sons together. 

This story was one I to pieced together over time. The symptoms of what she went through were the louder narrative I heard growing up. Getting spit on and called a "spic" while walking in NYC. Enduring miscarriages at the hands of an abuser. Mental health issues that resulted in her hospitalization and forced shock therapy "treatments" in 1960s Maine. Being known as "the crazy woman" in the small, white town where she raised her family. It was these stories that wove their way into the foundation of my upbringing. 

I also learned that she was a bad ass who didn't put up with any shit on the streets of New York. She fought back. Learning the context of her times—in generation, race, diaspora, gender—gave light to the power and courage she must have exerted to leave a marriage and re-create a life for her and her new baby. I learned that she was stop-in-your-tracks beautiful and fiery. I learned that she would drive into Maine's city of Portland to volunteer with immigrants and help them adjust to their new communities. I learned that she knew a lot about plants, was psychic, and very into spirituality and witchy things. 

These stories are the ones I grew up with. It was all that I knew in my humble, suburban Maine life. My mom (nearly translucent white) would warn us about the racism her brothers (extremely dark) endured and—while making our beds each morning was a give or take sort of chore—instilled in us the responsibility to look out for our community of peers and always speak up if anything bad happened. There were certain clubs we were never allowed to join because of their participation in segregation and discrimination that my mom saw when she was young. We were a Sunday morning breakfast and newspaper kind of family and my siblings, my parents, and I would fight over the comics and talk about what the political cartoons meant. 

Later, my Sunday mornings were spent on the ice training in the sport of figure skating. At one point I was practicing nearly every day and training towards the highest levels. I was known in the skating community and close with my coach, peers, and other professionals in the local network. I wasn't an Olympic hopeful, but I was good. 

Yet, something was always different. With 6 siblings and a modest familial income I was—to borrow from Cristela Alonzo—"lower classy" in the figure skating realm. I was obsessed with succeeding in the sport but even given all the resources I could never get myself to be tunnel-vision focused on the world of skating alone. I was never a "keep your head down" kind of skater and spoke my mind when I felt the rink's or club's decisions or culture was off. I also had a hot temper that made itself abundantly clear on the ice. 

Then, I moved to New York City. I began to realize that my upbringing was not the standard upbringing for your typical white, suburban, Maine family. And after working within social justice groups whose racial and socio-economic demographics mirrored those of figure skating (i.e. super white and wealthy) I started to piece some things together. While my complexion fit right into the standard figure skating club, my influence and outlook on humanity and justice did not. I realized that I have a responsibility to not just own up to my privilege, but also to reclaim my Boricua roots. I began learning about colonized Puerto Rico, its effects on women, the diasporas, Nuyorican culture, and the complex ways these realities deeply influence my life.

Because my grandmother endured, experienced, overcame, and created, I get to be here doing what I do. And her life and story is not a token for me to use but a responsibility and conviction I carry in my bones. 

This is how I continue to move through the world and on the ice. This is how I will continue as a coach in relationship to my students and their growth as leaders. This is how I will continue to be a disruptor of this sport's participation in white supremacy and ignorance of their ongoing role in it. 

While I may not have many allies from the sport as I commit to this work, I know I've got the spark of Milagros in my blood.