inspirational women

To the Fathers Who Refuse to Clip Our Wings


Malala Yousfzai and her Father, Ziauddin

Featured: Malala Yousafzai and her father, Ziauddin / Credit: John Russo, The Guardian

In the spirit of thankfulness, I wanted to share this letter I originally wrote a year ago to Malala Yousafzai in honor of her Nobel Peace Prize win and inspired by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai’s, 2014 TED Talk. Today, I dedicate this piece to my own father in honor of his birthday and his ever-adamant refusal to clip my wings:

Dear Malala,

Back in October 2012, my dad called shortly after the news broke of your attack and asked if I had heard about you. Annoyed, I said, “Papi, you know I don’t watch the news anymore.” At the time, I was on a serious spiritual development path, strictly limiting my intake of world events since the beginning of the year. My radical and desperate need to unplug and detoxify was brought on by years of severe addiction to every news media outlet. Frustrated, he responded: “How can you live in such a bubble? I can’t understand how you haven’t heard of Malala by now!” “Who is she?” “Look her up,” he answered.

When I learned your story, that you had survived and were recovering in England, my spirit soared. I couldn’t believe it. I cried out and cheered you on as you progressed over the following months. “What an incredible human being! She is here for a reason,” I often thought. I gingerly plugged myself back into the media stream but only to tune into your journey. Soon, you appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and recounted how after you learned of the Taliban’s threat on your life, you would think about what you would do or say if they really came after you:

I started thinking […] that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But, then I said, “If he comes, what would you do, Malala?” Then, I would reply to myself, “Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.” But, then, I said, “If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that […] harshly. You must fight others, but through peace and through dialogue and through education.” Then, I said, I will tell him how important education is, and that “I even want education for your children, as well.” And I will tell him, “That’s what I want to tell you. Now, do what you want.”

My jaw dropped with Jon and everyone listening to you that day. Since then, I have striven every day to find that same love and compassion for everyone I meet, as well.

Though our backgrounds are different, we actually have much in common, especially our fathers who championed our education. My father was raised by a single mother in poverty-stricken Mexico City in the early 40’s. He grew to understand the importance of education and raised my two younger sisters and I to be strong, educated, independent women. He also named me after his mother.

When your father took to the stage last year at TED 2014, he spoke of people asking what he did to make you so successful. He responded, “Don’t ask me what I did – ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings.” I watched his speech with my father, and with tears streaming down our cheeks, he wrapped his arms around me, saying: “That’s exactly how I feel. No clipping of no wings! If anything, I wanted to give you extensions so you could fly faster.”

My hope is that this extraordinary measure can be replicated in every home and in every classroom. You are most certainly doing your part, and I vow to beat my wings right along with you. The flights of future generations of children and of our humanity most certainly depend on it.

Onward and skyward,
Amelia


My father and I on his birthday

Featured: Amelia and her father, Roberto / Credit: Chaveli Torres

Skipping Stones

Skipping Stone

Last Thursday night, I had the honor of speaking at Fresh Ground Stories​ here in Seattle. The theme was “Comfort Zone,” and to prepare for the event, I DID NOT PREPARE A DAMN THING. I got up to the mic without knowing what I was going to say, hoping divine inspiration would cut me a break and take pity on my blind willingness to challenge myself as a storyteller. As I gathered my nerves and opened my mouth, I could feel all the stories in my head lining up at my mind’s door, clamoring to be heard. This is the story that shoved its way out:

People have asked me, “What is the most surprising thing about your journey so far?” And, the truth is: I am amazed by the kindness of strangers, and perhaps by my own ability to trust them back, as well. No matter where I’ve stopped along the way, unfailingly, there are always people who are ready and willing to help out in any way that they can.

After I came back from South America in April of this year, I quickly realized Austin was no longer the right place for me — a feeling that totally jolted me. But, I trusted it, and within a few weeks, I sold all my things, and packed up my car and headed west. I made my way across west Texas, following the Rockies up through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Canada, then over to Seattle, and down the Pacific Coast to San Francisco and Los Angeles, before making my way back up to the Pacific Northwest, which is where I’ve been playing for the past few weeks.

When I reached Glacier National Park in Montana, I came upon a lake as clear and still as glass. As I took in the majesty of the place, I noticed some splashing and ripples on the other end. Curious, I followed the shoreline. A family of four was there: a mom, dad, and their two young daughters. They were skipping stones. I laughed and smiled, and asked if they could teach me. The girls said, “Sure!” and handed me a stone. “It’s all in the wrist,” they said, “And when you pick out a stone, make sure it is light and as smooth as possible. Then, just flick!”

I took a breath, feeling the weight of the stone in my hand and set up my wrist to flick like they instructed. Then, FLICK — *pat*pat* — my stone skipped twice before gliding underneath the surface. INCREDIBLE! I had never skipped a stone in my entire life! I picked up another. AGAIN! Another successful double skip.

Sharing in my delight, the mom asked me about my journey, and I relayed my story. Seemingly impressed, she asked if I had anywhere to stay that night. I told her no. I had been in the practice of just allowing the Universe to take care of me and steer me in whatever direction it felt I should go. “Something will show up,” I shrugged.

After a beat, she said, “Well, we’re staying at the KOA down the road, and we paid for a tent space, but we’re not using it, because we’re in our RV. You’re welcome to pitch your tent there. We’re also having tacos for dinner and a chocolate mousse cake I’ve been letting thaw out all day. You’re welcome to join us!”

I stared in disbelief. In the past, I probably would have declined such a grand invitation, not wanting to impose. But, before I knew it, I heard myself saying, “Yes, I would love that,” the words rolling out of my mouth freed from somewhere deep inside my being.

“Great!” she said, “We’ll be eating around 7:30. But, don’t have too high expectations on the tacos. We’re from Minnesota. ”

I laughed and thanked her, and told them I’d meet them there. I hung back after they headed back down the trail, watching the lake once more turned to glass. I left the park within the hour and made my way to the KOA, thanking my absolute lucky stars.

We ate dinner and played games. Apparently, one of the daughters was usually a quiet gal, but for whatever reason she really opened up around me and told me all about her love of mermaids. She even had a real mermaid tail attached to a slip-on spandex suit, which she promptly put on and demonstrated how to swim in it. I laughed until my belly ached. I hadn’t had that much fun in such a long time. I forgot how much I loved playing games and sharing in that young schoolgirl mindset.

As the night began to wind down, the dad asked me how big my tent was. I told him it was a small two-person tent. “Perfect,” he said. “That should fit just right outside in that gravelly area next to the RV.” I nodded, ready to make my way back to my car to start setting up. “You’re welcome to set it up out there,” he continued, “Or, if you’d like, you can stay inside with us.”

I stared again in disbelief, a smile spreading across my face. I thought of all the yes’s and no’s I had ever uttered in my life that led me to be so lucky in that moment. Where would I have been instead had I not said yes that night? Where would I have been had I not said yes to to Mechi​ and our South American roadtrip earlier this year?

Who knows. It didn’t matter.

“Yes,” I said at last, “I would absolutely love that.”

Photo credit: Amelia Isabel

Amelia holding a skipping stone

When Your Friend is a Machine Gun

Mechi on the beach

Do you have a friend that when you’re with you feel as if you can conquer the entire world together? That there is no limit? That any dream you can possibly dream really can come true? This woman is that for me.

Mechi is a FORCE. A supernova tsnuami. A machine gun of radical love and wisdom. I first met her in Brazil five years ago, where we lived and worked together in Salvador. It had been almost four years before she came flooding back into my life last summer and totally shot up my world, leaving a destruction of all my previous conceptions of love, friendship, and how navigate life in her wake.

“The world is magic!” She tells me. And I know this is true, because she helps me to see it. Over and over again.

She taught me how to trust in the Universe. To believe that we will always be taken care of. To let go of structure, of expectations, and just let it FLOOWWW. She inspired me to get my first tattoo, because I was there in Brazil when she got her’s. Earlier this year as we traveled South America together, she even gave me the honor of shaving her head after being inspired by my own buzz last year. (Yeah, lots of OMGICAN’TBELIEVEWEDIDIT happy tears!)

When I woke up this morning, this quote was in my inbox:

“What is a teacher? I’ll tell you: it isn’t someone who teaches something but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.” — Paulo Coehlo, The Witch of Portobello

I have many friends that fit this description, but today, I dedicate this one to mi gorrrda mas boluudaa. 🙂 And to all women who know how to wield their artillery powers for good.

Featured: Mercedes Ponce de León in Rio de Janeiro
Photo credit: Amelia Isabel

Let Us Be Brilliant

With every comma, every semicolon, every piece of punctuation I use, one teacher’s voice among many still prominently rings in my head every time I write a sentence. 

In fact, every time I submit a paper now in grad school, I still submit it as if I were submitting to her class, wondering what grade she would give me — still conditioned to strive for that nearly impossible but ever-so-rewardingly possible A+.

Her voice also rings when I read any piece of great literature, see any great film, or step into any great museum. Or when I write any poem, any story, any journal entry, or any blog post. Or when I think of becoming a teacher. Or a writer. Or a speaker. Or simply the most brilliant version of myself I can possibly be. 

She was tough and gentle, encouraging and wise. She was our Google before we had Google. She knew everything, and I would often leave her class wondering how in the world it was possible for one human being to know SO much! From the Baroque to the Enlightenment, from Asian art to Russian literature, from Dia de los Muertos to old spiritual hymns. If there was one person I would rally behind and go into battle for, it would be Pamela Stanescu.

She called us “great and glorious human beings” before every lecture, and — at least for me — she made me feel like I was. 

It was an honor to be her student in her 45 years of teaching. I would give anything to be at her last lecture this afternoon. Instead, I will salute her from the foothills of the Rockies, and with spirited cry, I say, “Let us all be brilliant, shall we?” Not just for an afternoon. But for our entire lives. 

Why not? She did. 

Watch her interview here.