Thursday, June 22, 2006


ON TUESDAY, JUNE 20, 2006, Choose Me turned one year old. Unlike horse and dog years, in book terms, one year is old for a book. Everything that is supposed to happen to a book has to happen in that first year—according to the publishers. The first week’s sales determine whether the book will be a bestseller or not. Mine was not--at least not according to the publishing world's terms.

NONE OF THIS matters to me. At the last minute, I decided to have a birthday dinner for Choose Me. I made a quickee Publisher postcard invitation and passed it out at the graduation party of one of my little cousins (who are more like nieces and nephews to me). I even made a homemade birthday hat for the book :).

EIGHTEEN MEMBERS OF my family—from my four-year-old grand-nephew to my 64-year-old favorite aunt who just had back surgery last week and was still in pain—joined me for dinner at Café Central, one of the restaurants featured in the book. We talked, we laughed, and we ate—not in any particular order. I quizzed them with a question on the book: Who did Eva have lunch with at Cafe Central in the book? Nobody passed but that’s okay. (Eva has lunch with Maya and Simone after she runs into Adam for the first time after their break-up.)

CAFE CENTRAL IS a Puerto Rican restaurant which has been in existence since 1950. It has survived despite the closings of many of the mom-and-pop businesses in the area and the current gentrification. They have the best jibaritos (delicious steak sandwich with plantains in place of bread, onions, lettuce & tomatoes) and my sisters and I used to frequent it when we worked nearby. While the owner of the restaurant has never spoken to us, the waitress asked who’s birthday it was and congratulated me. Even on Tuesday, he passed by our pushed-together five tables several times and never once asked how things were. Some would consider this rude but I just chalk it up to his ignorance about restaurant etiquette—even though he’s been in business for 56 years. Why am I giving this restaurant free publicity despite the owner’s "lack of knowledge?" Because I have great memories of the place. And now I have even more.

I AM BLESSED with a wonderful, supportive family. They all came out to support a silly little thing like the anniversary of my book, coming straight from work, or after taking care of kids all day long, or while recuperating from back surgery--pillow, pain--killers and all. They understood that I couldn’t foot the bill and all chipped in. One day I will treat them all to a “thank-you party”--one day.

AT THE END of the evening, my family offered a few words of encouragement and pieces of advice. My cousin, Elvia, said that even if the book didn’t sell a lot of copies, everyone’s still proud of me; my aunt asked that my next book be in Spanish so she could read it (yuh, okay, that’s going to take me a while); and my super-Christian uncle gave me the title for a future book: Looking for a Few Holy Men. I told him I only needed one(!); they all thought that was funny.

Thanks, Familia! Love ya! Thanks for making Choose Me a bestseller in your hearts!

Monday, June 05, 2006



Two years ago to the day, June 3, 2006, my 20-year-old nephew, Radames Rivera, was killed by gun violence. He left behind a grieving mother, my sister, Janet, a loving little brother, and countless uncles, cousins and other family relatives. I didn’t know my nephew very well because I met him late in life after discovering that I had another sister and brother. His death nonetheless affected me as if it had been my own child. Whom among us hasn’t feel a mother’s pain at the loss of a child.

Last Saturday morning, I participated in the Alliance of Logan Square Organization’S (A.L.S.O.) 11th Annual Walk for Peace in Chicago. Each year, this walk commemorates the lives lost to gun violence in various police districts in Chicago. As the walk wound through the streets where I once lived, across the streets where I drive through every day, and into the faces of the old residents and new yuppies who are oblivious and ignorant of the destruction occurring in this old vs. gentrifying neighborhood, I couldn’t help thinking about how sad it was that the 31 murder victims we were remembering were only a slice of the countless victims who were killed in our “beautiful” city in ONE YEAR, just a small portion of the numerous victims killed every year in our “great” nation. I repeat, 31 people, mostly children, were killed in just two police districts.

Homicide is the NUMBER ONE cause of death for Chicago residents between the ages of 1 and 34. Not disease, but homicide. In Illinois, homicide is the leading cause of death for Blacks between the ages of 15 and 34. Eighty percent of the killings in Chicago are the result of shootings. Most of the victims AND offenders in Chicago homicides are under the age of 30. Put that in your chamber of Commerce brochures Mayor Daley and Governor Blagovich when you're trying to attract businesses and new residents to our fair city and state. Think about that when you’re grappling with the city and state budgets.

I cried as my sister spoke of a mother’s pain, anger and hope. I prayed for all the mothers who have had to endure this unnecessary trauma. And I prayed that I would never feel such pain. I cried as the names of the victims were read one by one, as other children hung a ribboned nametag on a white cross. When the name of two-year-old Shyania Crittle was read, my heart almost gave out as I struggled to control my emotions.

What is the solution? Stricter parenting? Better schools? More money for social programs? Bigger police presence? God? I wish I knew. I do know that there is no one solution but a combination of all of the above can’t hurt – especially God.