Inspired by Saudi Women

Sitting in my kitchen tonight, I was contemplating rather or not I should pull out my laptop and write a blog post. The feelings I had about it were a mixture of feeling sorry for myself and discouraged. When I sat with it and looked at it intentionally, I came to see that it was mainly laziness and apathy. Then a welcoming, saving thought came into my awareness…the interview I had seen the night before about the first Saudi woman, Haifaa Al Mansour, to make a full-length feature film. Wadjda is also the first to be made in Saudi Arabia.Images of the movie’s trailer and the young Saudi girl it features, came alive in my mind. Continue reading

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The Legacy of Women

Me with (L to R) Marisol, my mom, and Ivelisse

Me with (L to R) Marisol, my mom, and Ivelisse

You can be around people and not even realize how much power they hold…all the stories of their lives, the love and tragedies, the overcoming and enjoying. I got to spend an amazing weekend and more with three amazing women. Now that we are all off to our own parts of the world, I am realizing the amazing legacy I am a part of because of them and what a gift I have in each of them. This female counter-part to the three musketeers are my mother, Angelines Del Riego, and her two best friends from high school, Alma Olalla (known as Marisol), and Ivelisse de la Cruz. All three are Dominican women, born and raised in the mountains of the Dominican Republic. Today, they each live in different parts of the world, yet…I recently enjoyed their company and even now, weeks later, am still feeling their powerfully, loving presence.  Continue reading

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Did you know that November 25th is designated as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women? I learned about this a number of years ago thanks to my mom. She was working on the music for a documentary called “Code Name Butterflies” and I joined her in New York City to record the background vocals. Now, years later, I have learned that most people are not aware of this day’s designation by the UN and the true story that inspired its international observance.

Nowadays, many people think that this day addresses domestic violence against women. While it does address this type of violence, it also incorporates a larger picture and is speaking to any and every kind of violence that is all too prevalent in our world. Political violence is what was occurring on this day in 1960, in the small island of the Dominican Republic. My mother was born and raised in this beautiful tropical island and remembers hearing stories from her parents of when her mother was pregnant with her and the dictator, Rafael Trujillo, was finally assassinated and his brutal reign over the country was put to an end. Yet that end and that victory for the people did not happen in that year of 1961 alone. It started years before, through the lives of the Mirabal Sisters.

Very close to where my mother grew up in the center of the Dominican Republic, is where years earlier the Mirabal family lived. They had four daughters who became revolutionaries and political activists who conspired to liberate their country from the dictator Trujillo. Several times, three of the sisters were imprisoned and their husbands as well. Now, only one still lives, Dede Mirabal, because on November 25, 1960, the other three sisters were brutally assassinated by Trujillo. Although it cost them their lives, their efforts were not in vain and were the largest and most essential contribution to the final overthrow of Rafael Trujillo and freedom from his violent oppression.

Throughout the world, this commemorative day is recognized greatly in Latin countries. This past week, I had the opportunity to perform one of my mother’s songs with her that she wrote for the documentary “Code Name Butterflies”. The song, “Bachata de las Carteras” tells of what things may have been found in the purse of Minerva, which was found in the vehicle where the bodies of the three sisters were placed after being beaten to death and the vehicle then pushed off a mountain cliff so it would look like an accident. Although sad and tragic, it is a perspective that reminds us that no woman is exempt from the damage of violence. What is done to one woman, extends out to others. These women were not only daughters and sisters, but they were also wives and mothers. The song tells of how perhaps a diaper for her son would be found in the purse among other items endearing and special only to a mother.

We presented the song at the monthly assembly for the government of the region of Extremadura in Spain. In attendance were military dignitaries and political figures, among which was the president of parliament of the region, the president of the government of the region, and the director of the Institute of Women of Extremadura. It was wonderful to see the great presentation that was also given by the Institute of Youth of Extremadura. When I saw these high school age teens standing up for at the front, I thought to myself these are the next Spaniards…this is where the country is going…

The presentation by the youth documented their projects in the visual arts, demonstrating how images can speak louder than words and deeply correlating how violence can be silent and yet affects everyone powerfully. There was no music in the video as it clicked through the images, slide by slide, in silence. It really made a motivating impact and I find myself still picturing the images, like a red heart made of yarn that on the next slide is torn in half and unraveling.

On this important day, I hope that you take time to think about any ways that you have ever witnessed violence being done against others. And although it can be the scariest and hardest thing to do, I hope that you give yourself the time and will yourself to take a look at yourself and your own life – have you ever experienced violence being done against you? Have you ever been the one to commit violence against another? These are not enjoyable or easy things to consider, yet where else do we start? With our own individual selves is the only place to start and doing so affects even entire countries, each other, and our societies. This day is important not only for women, but for men as well. For men and women alike are both capable of and called to being the instruments of education to prevent such violence, personal character to live as a person who would not accept or carry out such violence, and leaders who would advocate for this as they would for any other cause they deem personally and politically important.

A great way to personally commemorate this day and ensure you are ready to stand for such a cause when the need arises (for believe me, the need will arise and most likely, is already present in your life), is to educate one’s self. I highly recommend reading the book “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez as part of that education. It tells the story of the Mirabal sisters and is a great way to connect even more so with the importance of this cause and the significance of your part in this issue.

Turning 30 In Europe

Happy 30th, Amalia...

I recently had my 30th birthday in Europe. It seems that starting the beginning of any decade can be a monumental time in one’s life. I had the feeling, accompanied by affirmation from others, that the way I would go into my 30’s would set the pace for this next decade of my life. This brought to my attention questions about who I am, who I want to be, and what I want to be doing with my life. And yes…I am still asking myself these questions at the new age of thirty. I hear from those even older, that they still ask themselves these life questions as well.

I love Europe and there is so much in that part of the world that I have not seen and experienced. Keep in mind though, I don’t want to see and experience Europe the same way that most Americans do. I want to visit there for a while and stay with locals. Gist is, I want to live there for a period of time.

Giving attention to these questions stirred up desires and passions that I have for traveling and people. This involved some reflection on the past decade of my twenties and I feel that overall I can say that I spent my twenties knowing who I am, but trying to conform to what my surrounding society expected of me, especially when it came to career. The first big thing to understand about me concerning career is that I’ve known for a long time, since I was a teenager, that I could not have just one type of job or career my whole life. There was no way I could see myself doing just one type of work and being with one company throughout my life. The idea terrified me with boredom and seemed so down-right typical. So it’s no surprise that throughout my twenties, I had numerous different kinds of jobs in a variety of companies. Our society doesn’t look very highly on that so I encountered feelings of needing to change or that I wasn’t doing things right…in essence, that there was something wrong with what I wanted and where I was at in my life.

Milano City Center

Flash forward now to current day: I turned thirty almost two weeks ago on April 4th. Where did I spend this special occasion? I was with my two dear friends, Marilena and Anne, in Milano, Italy (and that’s the Italian way to spell it, by the way). You see, back in the summer I was working for a great corporation in a fantastic position. I had a nice office, good title, wonderful colleagues, and…I had to be in an office at a certain time, was compared to my co-worker and thus expected to be in the office earlier and stay later, and wasn’t traveling. Some things just aren’t for everyone and as nice as the security can be, I didn’t see it as bulletproof, ever-lasting security. Haven’t we learned that by now about companies in our economy and times?

Maps anybody???

Then the ideas came, fast on the heels of my desires that I started to pay more attention to…I longed to be in Europe for my 30th birthday. Heck, if I’m already over there, why not make the most of it and be there for a little while. I could see countries I hadn’t been to yet, like Italy and Switzerland…spend more time in Spain to discover more about my family roots there and finally become fluent in Spanish (which is long overdue since my mother is Dominican and Spaniard and her first language is Spanish). And who knows what else I would discover about myself by living in new countries. For more reasons than I can list here, it was becoming more and more of a desire and more ideas were being born.

Have you ever found that when you start asking yourself hard questions and then paying attention to what you find, that you become motivated to essentially “put it out there”…to yourself, your friends and family maybe, even putting it out there over any of your fears and discouragement from others…And that’s when things start to fall into place and doors open. I always like to keep in mind that at times it may seem that doors close, but that’s only because there is another door or even window that opens.

I started to put out there my desires and from that formed a plan. The windows and doors that opened and closed over many more months orchestrated the possibility of where I am now and the fulfillment of one of my aspirations for how I would set the pace for my thirties. It may seem cliché, but there is a reason why people pose the question “If you only had one month or year left to live, what would you go do?” I spent years putting that question aside and doing what I was told life looked like to be responsible, secure, and happy. I really did. I had the relationship, the house, the yard, the dog, the job (well, in my case jobs)…and you know what…it didn’t bring security or success or happiness for that matter. In and of themselves these things are not wrong, they’re not bad. I am simply sick of the unbalanced value that some societies can put on them. And I’m hopefully learning that I should not find my value and life in them.

L to R: Anne, Marilena, and Myself

Now back to a couple of weeks ago…I spent my 30th birthday in Milano, Italy with old and new friends. Marilena and her fiancé Flavio (now husband) took us to the most wonderful dinner for the special occasion and absolutely spoiled me with their company during the week and a half that I was visiting. Overall, my favorite aspect of my experiences so far was not only my birthday, but the day after was Marilena’s birthday and then a week later was her wedding. This was very special for me since I love to travel by experiencing local Peoples and cultures and attending a matrimonio Italiano (Italian wedding) showed me the best of Milano and Italians.

Train ride from Milano to Venice...where I wrote this post from

Catch up to where I am at this very moment and you find me writing this from the train as I head from this past week in Geneva, Switzerland to Venice. The sun is still bright as it starts to set and there are lush fields of grape trellis’ in vineyards flying by my window as I travel further into renowned Italian wine country. It is quite like the scenes many of us have seen in pictures, movies, and first-hand…but for me this time, its reality. And I feel at home. I feel at peace and excited…if this is what the start of my thirties can look like, who knows what else I have available to me throughout the next decade.

Reflections on Life Before 30…Thank You!

Going back to the 1st birthday...

In about three weeks I turn 30 years old. Talk about a time to reflect. Some people dread getting older, however I’m looking forward to starting a new decade of my life. I hear that 30’s can be your best years and that the way you start a decade can set the pace for the next 10 years of your life. Hmmm…maybe this explains why I’m living the next 6 months traveling throughout Britain, Europe, Israel, and who knows where else. For more details on that adventure, check out my travel blog www.EthnosTravel.wordpress.com.

What kicked off these reflections was a gift for my upcoming 30th birthday that my loving Aunt Karen from Pennsylvania sent me. In a birthday card she enclosed an entire stack of old photos. They were of my childhood and captured me at all different ages: infant to toddler, kid to teenager…it’s very touching to look at them to say the least. To see the album click here. There was something sentimental about the feel of old photos in my hands. It made me realize how much things have changed, not just with technology, but in me as well.

Loved that poodle sweater!

And so began my reflections back on my life thus far…almost thirty years of life and I was struck with how much the people in my life have molded me and influenced who I am. More than anything though, it made me grateful. I’ve been fortunate to experience a family that is loving and gave me an amazing childhood. Full of love and affirmation, my parents invested all of themselves into me. They spent time with me, reading and playing music, camping and hiking, even climbing trees. My life has been blessed with amazing people through my family and through friends.

Life has also had its surprises and hurts. Not everything is rose-colored glass…there has been heartache and loss, tragedy and grief…however, more than anything, there has been love. There is love. And for that, I am forever thankful…

First I want to thank the friends I have had in my life…I thought about naming them here, but would hate to limit myself that way and to leave anyone out. You each know who you are. From elementary school friends that I shared the same birthday with to high school friends and middle school girls I mentored…some of you are now married and with kids of your own. Some are graduating from college and reminding me of how young I was when I would babysit you…crazy that adults entrusted you to me.  And my trusty, fun college girlfriends…people would swear that we were cousins if not sisters, we looked so much alike and were always together so much. It’s neat to see where all of us are now. To more recent and current friends, you’re an amazing part of my Colorado home and life. From skiing to backpacking, roommates and building-mates, downtown nights out to weddings and babies…you’ve been there for me through celebrating joyous events and grieving through tragedies. Thank you does not even begin to describe my appreciation to all of you…but you have my friendship for the rest of our lives to continue to show you my gratefulness.

And I have to thank my first love. You rocked my world and the after-shock still resonates…and in the best of ways. Sure, things did not turn out the way we hoped, but I believe part of turning 30 for me is coming to a new place where I am glad for the past and would not change what we had or want it gone for the life of me. You’re a very special person and got to me like no other, even to this day. God help the person who does one day get to me even more 🙂 But for now, you hold the record. Thank you for you. There’s simply no other words that can express what I feel about you and will always appreciate about having been in love with you. You have taught me the most about myself.

Last, but certainly not least…

With Mommy and Daddy...always loved saying it with "y".

I want to thank my mom and dad for all their love that they continue to give – you each loved me so much that I have never doubted that you would always love me through anything and forever. My appreciation and love goes out to my grandparents, those who are still with us and those who have already gone ahead…your adoration of me makes me think of the coziest blanket. To my aunts, uncles, and cousins – the memories I have created with you remain with me still and I look forward to many more memories to come. As our family has grown with the addition of my step-mother and step-siblings, our family love has grown as well…thank you for your openness and growing together. You’re love and faith in me touches me still. And to my brothers: Marky and Brendan…don’t forget that it was me who named you both and you are such close friends and the coolest boys I know…your friendship with me is such a joy! I always laugh so much with both of you and I see each of you as one of the coolest parts of me and my life. My family is so wonderful to me! Each of you have showered so much love on me, instilling in me the strongest sense of making the most of every moment by being kind, affirming, and loving to others. Life is short, so why be mean or unkind…you’re each extraordinary people in how you love and live.

The coolest brothers in the world!

I’ve learned so much from all of you. The most important things I’ve learned have been from my mistakes. Thanks for loving me, mistakes and all.

Where would I be without each of you? Who would I be? I would be a completely different Amalia, that’s for sure. I’m in love with the Amalia that I am…all of me and all of who makes me who I am. With that truth about my past and present known and loved, I’m excited to venture into my 30’s. And guess what…you’re each coming with me.

With continued love ~