Brown Skin, Race, and Fear

When I gave birth to my daughter almost three years ago, the idea that conversations about race would be part of my parenting didn’t come to mind. Now, I think about it all the time. I am from the Dominican Republic and considered a minority and person of color in America/the world, and my husband is African-American, which comes with its own set of racial struggles. Naturally, our daughter is brown skinned with tight curls, two telltale signs that like her parents, she is a person of color.

Similar to many others around the world, I was raised to believe in light over dark (complexion wise), but I didn’t grow up in the same world my parents did, so I rejected this notion. Dominicans, like other Hispanic groups have a history of neglecting their African ancestry, and even though I appreciate all that my culture has added to my life, I cannot condone the sentiment of “my people,” who want to make themselves believe that they only have Spanish ancestors; this is simply not the case. The beauty of the Caribbean is that our ancestors come from different places, giving us the unique and diverse exteriors we sometimes forget to celebrate. We are a mixed people; so is the rest of the world, by the way.

I want to raise a child that appreciates the beauty of brown skin, its smooth, butter-like texture that so many yearn for in the summer months. A child who does not see her tight curls as an obstacle, but rather a reflection of her mother and father, who are reflections of their parents. The point is that brown skin, “difficult to manage hair,” broad noses, full lips, and thick bodies are constantly attacked by society, yet so many, especially in current popular culture are now seeking to attain these traits. Well, that’s just plain offensive. Our ancestry is not an accessory; it’s also not up for grabs. My wish as a mother of a precious brown baby is that she grows up loving every inch of herself, ignoring society’s standards and rejecting its perception of the person she is supposed to be.


It wasn’t until I started teaching mostly Black students that fear for my daughter’s future began to creep into my body without any sign of slowing down. It’s true what people say about experience; it’s the best teacher. Hearing my students’ concerns, thoughts, and emotional stories about their experience as Black members of American society has altered my point of view more than any other experience I’ve had. Yes, I’ve always known that race was a major issue here, and I myself have been the target of racial comments many times in life, but it’s different when children you care about experience fear for their lives over something they cannot control. It’s different when you look into the eyes of these children, and you see pain, shame, and more often than not, indifference. “We’re used to this, Ms. Canela.” Those words have been uttered in my classroom anytime race comes up; I teach American Literature, so this happens quite often. Children, whether they are five or seventeen should never have to feel that they don’t belong, they don’t matter, or that they don’t get to have a voice. For children of color, Black children in particular, this seems to be the expected narrative.

During this past year of teaching, fear for my own child has been heightened. Will she be able to endure the negative comments made about her, or about her father and mother? Will she be ridiculed for having brown skin and “unruly” hair? More than likely, she will deal with racial comments, so how do we (my husband and I) prepare her?

I recently watched a video where a Black father was interviewed with his daughter, who appeared to be about seven years old. The topic was race. As a Black man, he feels he needs to teach his daughter how to interact with racist people and biased law enforcement. By the end of the interview, his daughter breaks down, worried about her father’s safety after he speaks about his experience with a police officer (I am aware not all police officers are biased or racist, that’s not the point here). I couldn’t help but picture the young father and daughter as my own husband and child; it broke me. Even though I know that all parents think about the effect of the outside world on their children, there is the added element of crippling fear for people of color. The stakes are just higher, whether the world wants to admit it or not.

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Yearning for Simplicity

This afternoon, I rewatched, The Fault in Our Stars, which is based on the young adult novel by John Green and features one of my favorites, Shailene Woodley. Watching the movie this afternoon reminded me of a couple of things, including my love for literature and simplicity. Over the years, I have noticed that my heart’s desire to live surrounded by nature and write all day is increasing, yet I still find myself immersed in teaching English literature to mostly uninterested students, who can barely write or understand the books they “read.”
fault in our stars

In the movie, Shailene’s character is dying from cancer, and she meets another cancer ridden teenager, who falls in love with her and takes her to Amsterdam to meet the author of her favorite book. Throughout her journey, there is a sense of acceptance for her fate, and simple pleasures like having a picnic and writing emails become her norm. Maybe most people who watch this movie pay attention to the bigger scenes, but for me, the beauty of this story is in the everyday moments like sitting in an old playground and discussing a favorite book with a friend; I no longer have time in my schedule to enjoy these types of moments on a daily basis, and even when I do, they seem rushed and sporadic.

It seems the older we get, the more chaotic life becomes. I know this has been said a thousand times by millions of people, but there really is no slowing down in the midst of raising a family and building a life. After recently turning thirty, it seems like my life is nowhere near where I want it to be even though I have almost everything I’ve always wanted. It’s not that I am unaware of my blessings, I just want actual time to enjoy them. No rushed time spent together, no scurrying to finish a cup of coffee, and no endless thoughts of financial worry.

The reality of life is that it goes too fast, but there is nothing I yearn for more than quiet days spent reading/writing, enjoying lunch with my family, and maybe even riding a bicycle for old time’s sake. Simplicity, underrated and difficult to come by.

“Okay? Okay.”

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Relationships and Learning

I’m currently in my third year of teaching and everyday brings with it a new lesson or surprise. Looking back on the little bit of experience I’ve gained so far has taught me so much about patience, letting go of control, and building lasting relationships.

The first and most important lesson any teacher should learn is that relationships come above everything in the classroom; this may seem like a given, but I have witnessed seasoned teachers struggle with something that as educators should be second nature. Getting to know students can be daunting and overwhelming since most of our time is spent on planning lessons, making copies, grading, and meetings; however, it should be the number one priority, always.

Take for example a student who is dealing with a less than ideal situation at home, failing most of their classes, and seen as an outcast at school. At first, the student seems unreachable, to the point of no return. Yet, in comes an educator who simply sees another human being, not a student, not a responsibility for forty five minutes a day, but a person with needs, flaws, and strengths. Said teacher then begins the slow and sometimes painful process of getting to know a student dealing with heavy issues by either leaving notes of encouragement on their assignments or meeting with him/her one-on-one on a consistent basis. Regardless, slowly but surely, a relationship is being built, and it could be the relationship that counts.

More often than not, people stray away from anything negative or too time consuming, including their jobs and responsibilities. As educators, sometimes we forget the purpose we serve in the lives of young people. Yes, we must plan lessons and give feedback on work, but students won’t remember that they got 13/15 answers correct on an exam; they will, however, remember the way we made them feel. Personally, I remember the teachers who made me feel worthy of being in their classes by acknowledging my presence whether I was having a good or bad day.

During my time in different schools, I’ve noticed that adults tend to place unfair judgement on children, and the older they are, the less bothered they want to be with their baggage. It is a sad reality that students who are “troubled” are often ignored or yelled at, while the “good” ones are treated with love and respect.

It cannot then come as a shock that the “troubled” students lead unsuccessful lives after they leave the classroom; if we do not mold their minds as teachers, adults, or role models (the roles we fill and sometimes sign up for), then we CANNOT be surprised when they don’t meet their potential. Although all of the blame CANNOT be placed on educators and school staff alone, it is disappointing to see the number of people who choose to work in schools and rarely make one meaningful relationship with a child. We may not be able to reach them all, but we must at least try; for some students, we are the only light they will see.


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my summer as a stay-at-home mom

Last Wednesday, I returned to work for the new school year, and my whirlwind summer as a stay-at-home-mom with my ten month old daughter came to an end. Needless to say, it was quite a bittersweet morning when I dropped her off at her great-grandmother’s house for the first time in two months. During the many mornings and afternoons spent alone with my daughter this summer, I learned that staying at home is rewarding, but at the same time extremely exhausting.

There is no “alone time” when caring for your child on a day to day basis, all day long. As a human being yourself, you can become extremely reliant on an infant for entertainment, which can be tricky since they are entertained by everything around them and are bored easily. While I wanted to play with my daughter, she wanted to destroy my book case and picture frames. However, when I would take the hint that I was not “cool” enough to hang with her and turned on some television, she decided I was not allowed. It was quite a conflicting scenario for me since she was the boss and I merely her five minute pit stop on her many endeavors throughout our living room.

I very quickly came to the conclusion that I would need to have a system in order to get things accomplished, spend time with my daughter, and have some much needed mommy alone time. I would have to wake up at least thirty minutes before my daughter in order to make my bed, attend to my bathroom needs, and have a quick bite for breakfast (a full bacon, eggs, and toast meal was barely doable, so I quit while I was ahead on that one). For two hours after her wake up, my daughter would predictably destroy every part of our living room, eat, and eventually whine and rub her eyes when she needed her nap. During nap time, I enjoyed tea, reading, and catching up with my favorite TV shows (this became my little piece of mommy heaven everyday). The rest of the afternoon after her morning nap, my daughter would fight sleep, and I would gain more and more patience. The sound of a whining, sleepy baby can be quite the patience teacher.

As a result of my “busy, yet boring” summer, I have decided that staying at home as a mom is rewarding, filled with thrills and shrills, and ultimately not for me. While I immersed myself in bonding moments with my daughter such as reading stories and teaching her new skills, my brain is not made for staying at home and feeling restless. As stated above, I was extremely busy taking care of my daughter, but I was also quite bored this summer. Too much silence due to my daughter not yet being able to speak tied in with constant repetitive motions such as changing diapers five times a day made for a tedious day, with only the five minutes of attention at a time that my daughter would give me as  something to look forward to.

So in essence, stay-at-home moms are a unique brand of women that I admire, yet I am completely baffled by them at the same time.

Kudos to all the stay-at-home warriors out there,

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Passing the Baton by Maria Canela

Check out my new post for The Nerdy Book Club!!!

Nerdy Book Club

As a new mom, it is important for me to share my love of reading with my daughter. My husband and I began reading to her while she was still in the womb, and I find it necessary to pass the love of books onto her starting at an early age. Reading to my daughter is not only exciting and fun, but it is a way to bond with her; I get to share an intimate experience with my most important contribution to the world.

canela 1Although I was not read to as a child by my parents, being an English teacher has shaped my belief that reading to children from a young age is of extreme importance. Many of the children I teach struggle with literacy because reading has never been a huge aspect of their lives. They were not read to as infants and even toddlers, so the first…

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reading book club in the classroom

I recently began a reading book club with my students who are struggling readers. At first, they were quite hesitant because they did not want to share their thoughts on the books they are reading with the rest of the class. I always find it so interesting that typically “confident” kids never want to share things in class. It’s like they are too cool for sharing. Naturally, I use my persistent nature to get them involved in the conversation.

It has been two weeks since we started alternating between journal days and class discussion days. The students are in a groove now, and they look forward to the discussions for the most part. On days when they are not as motivated as I would like them to be, I try to start the conversation going by sharing about my own book that I am reading. I also read with them everyday in our club circle, which I have seen makes them stay focused on their own reading. After all, modeling is a key ingredient in the classroom.

Sharing in the experience of reading with my students has also changed my experience in the classroom. Since I have kids who are not driven to read, it can be difficult to find ways to keep them engaged. It seems as if the reading book club has given them something interactive to do with books where they don’t feel like the work is tedious and redundant because everyday we have something new to discuss. It has also changed the pace in my classroom now that students are getting up and coming together for a bonding moment.

In other news, we have 39 days left of school and Summer is right around the corner. I have started my TBR (to be read) list of books, and I am anticipating some amazing stories coming to a couch near me rather soon. Summer reading has always been my favorite thing to do when school is out.

Until next time,

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5 things that suck about a trip to the hospital

Last night, I had to rush myself to the emergency room due to my asthma acting up, and I was highly irritated by several things, one of them being the ridiculous co-pay I was asked to provide. I have had dozens of bad experiences with healthcare and below are the top five worst things that I have noticed in my endless struggle with this necessity. 

1. Expensivehospital humor co-pays– Every time I go to the doctor I am asked for more and more money. A simple physical will cost me $40 out of pocket, while a trip to the emergency room will take $15o out of my already struggling pockets. Why is it that even with insurance, we have to pay so much money for our health needs? Let’s not even get into the fact that other countries provide free healthcare for their citizens, which should be the norm since our health is the number one thing-without it, we have nothing. 

2. Being asked for money before being treated– I have often found that hospitals will ask for your insurance card before anything else. Why is this the case? Shouldn’t they be more worried with getting my needs taken care of and handling that later? The insurance person should not be the first person I deal with when I get to the hospital, period. 

3. The amount of time it takes to be seen– Not only was I asked for my co-pay before anything else, but it took about 45 minutes before someone decided to come see me. Anyone with asthma can tell you, it is not a walk in the park to feel like someone is stepping on your chest while trying to breathe. It is extremely uncomfortable and quite frankly people can die from asthma, so why the wait? It seems like there is little  concern with treating people’s health needs in a quick fashion, and it needs to stop. Not to mention, there were barely any patients in this emergency room. 

4. Time it takes to get an update Once they start treatment, it takes too long for the next time you see someone. I was not checked on for about an hour and a half, which is just not acceptable in my book. There were nurses passing by, but no one took the time to see if I needed anything or how the treatment was going; this was not the first time that this took place during my visits to the doctor or hospital. Maybe we need to get more bodies in these hospitals, especially if they are going to charge as much as they do for visits.

5. Getting discharged can take forever as well– After you finally see the doctor, he takes about another hour or two to type up your discharge papers. I have yet to understand this, especially in busy hospitals where beds are constantly needed for new patients. 

Overall, I was not pleased with my experience last night or any night that I have been to the hospital for that matter. We must do better–that’s all!!


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Inspired by Illiteracy by Maria Canela

Check out my post in the Nerdy Book Club!!!

Nerdy Book Club

I was brought to this country by an illiterate father and barely literate mother; both had been raised in the Dominican Republic with little access to an education. I was in the fifth grade when I first realized that my father could not read or write. We were standing at the bank and he was asked to sign his name. He wrote an X and explained to the teller that he could not sign his name and that was all he could provide. The teller smiled and processed the transaction. On the way home, I asked my father why he could not sign his name, and he said his father never sent him to school. I was baffled and kept asking questions even though he did not appear to want to get into the topic. He explained that he only went to first grade for two days before being told…

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Leo gets his win–about time!!


This morning, my awesome husband walked through the door after walking our dog with the video of Leonardo DiCaprio’s win playing on his phone. I recognized this phenomenal actor’s voice immediately and screamed as soon as I heard he had won. Typically an avid lover of all things cinema, I would have watched the telecast, but decided not to since it has become progressively boring throughout the years. This year in particular, all I cared about was Leo finally receiving the honor he has been snubbed for too many times before.

As awards season got underway, it became clear that he finally had a chance at winning the prized gold statue. I could feel that this was his year, but I decided not to get too excited since his tremendous talent has been ignored so many times before. I also read somewhere that he was trying too hard this time around to win the gold, but that is just stupid, to say the least. Leo has been delivering Oscar worthy performances for years now, and it is about time that he is acknowledged. There has yet to be a character that he does not bring to life in the most genuine and truthful manner–for he is one of the greats of our time and as such is truly dedicated to his craft.

Having been involved in the world of acting for a period of my life, I am highly interested in actors who are fully committed to the craft of acting. My college professor, Robin Reese, whom I admire for this quality took the time to share with her students that acting is being–and this is just what Leo has done in his plethora of films. He does not shy away from the gritty, raw, and bold characters he often portrays and for that he is to be admired and held in the highest regard.

You’ve always had my vote Leo–and now finally, the Academy’s too.


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