Thursday, November 05, 2009

a little prince in harlem...

I grew up as a little prince in an old-school extended family, with multiple generations under one roof, where I was the only male. My Great-Grandmother, Grandmother, Mom, and two aunts were all my queens in our little tenth-floor, 3 bedroom kingdom in the El Barrio sky. Around 1989, things fell apart. Mom was 25 and decided she wanted to live her youth to the fullest and go clubbing, grandma moved out, titi gave up on men and was always at her girlfriend's place in the Bronx, so it was me and the eldest watching cartoons and novelas in spanish. She went to bed early and sometimes my mom didn't come home at all, although she always kissed me on the forehead before heading out the door. I never did quite understand why I took showers and dressed into pajamas whereas she did the same and put on dresses and heels and went outside. What do people do at night? You can't play basketball. You can barely see things. Adult life seemed so complicated from the perspective of a 9 year old.

Fast forward 18 years:

Grandma is still in Florida; Great-Grandma is 10 years passed; my mom is in North Carolina, still dances but has given up the clubs, one aunt had breast cancer and the other is healthy. Healthy that is until two days ago.

As time passes I am constantly reminded of their mortality as their generation slowly slips away. Am an adult now, and my world has grown far beyond the borders of my childhood. I am an artist and a graduate student. In the past 3 months I have done photo shoots in Paris, had meetings in London, and went out to Munich for Oktoberfest with eight of my closest (girl)friends. But I define home as 5 square blocks in the middle of the island of Manhattan where my family lives scattered throughout El Barrio. Not so much the actual structures of NYC subsidized housing but my family themselves. They are my living, breathing homes. Residences that are never in danger of foreclosure or denying me a hug because I was short on the rent on the first of the month.

So when I landed this Sunday in JFK after another flight out of the country I turned on my phone and was greeted by text messages and voicemails from family. A stroke: sketchy details, conflicting reports as to which hospital in the city, the condition of my aunt. One of my homes was in danger, perhaps the strongest home I have left. See this particular aunt is a warrior, her spine is composed of spear points. She has never put up with any sh*t from her husbands, boyfriends, family, children, or friends. Her will was indomitable but the cemeteries of the world are filled with women (and men) just like this. She will overcome this. Her body will bear the scars of this battle. And who knows, they may be some other malady lurking, undiscovered, that will offer one final coup de grâce.

But seeing her lying there I could see her struggles, the struggle to simply speak coherently, to move one half of her body, however even surrounded by family she was clearly leading the charge in this battle. From all the tears in the room (curiously absent from her own face) you would think the roles were reserved. After my hospital visit I was left with more questions than answers but no matter the outcome of her recent health issue, no matter where I may be in this world, whether in Harlem, NYC or Haarlem, The Netherlands my aunts can be assured that their little prince has never stopped defending the family castle...

She will overcome this. that I can assure her of...

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