Author’s Note for First Time Valencia's Garden Readers: This is part 6 of a series of memoirs that have been published about my recent trip to Cuba. Click here to start with the Preface.

The Front of Casa de Linda 
Day 1 – Monday, June 15th, 2015 

My eyes trace journeys across seas. I read tangerine painted walls with black Sharpie-inked tags written and drawn by hundreds of Casa de Linda’s former inhabitants. Colliding countries left visible remains of the foisted wars fought between their people long before they were born: “ISRAEL” crossed out and covered with “PALISTINE” strike-marked and re-veiled with “ISRAEL” and then, a small but bold, open mouthed sad-face and word-bubble saying, "Equality for ALL!” underneath the silent battle.
I sit alone. Writing in my black, Italian leather journal that he surprised me with last weekend when he met me at the Bolt Bus stop on 33rd and 11th. I hear his voice through the texts he sent me this morning after we FaceTimed, "Sorry I couldn’t be there today but I hope you know my love is real regardless. So proud of your growth and how far you’ve come… Be safe and know, I’m with you every step of the way, you’re never alone… I know you’ll come back even better than before. Love you! I’ll take this time to journey on my own.” He was the last person I spoke to before I boarded my flight. That means something to me.
The young Australians I met this morning have just walked in, resigning themselves to the large, puritan-pinewood dining room table. I listen to their hard Welsh accents throw words like “chopsing” and “heaving” over my head. 
Marisol enters the room with an announcement:
"Chica {insert super rapid unknown Spanish words} ...prepara la mesa por la cena." 
"She's gonna’ set the table so we can eat dinner." 
"Wow, Valencia! You've learned a lot."
"Yea! It's only your first day?"
"Mesa means table...” I smile at my ability to understand what she just said. “Sometimes I can figure things out but I just don't speak well enough to respond. The words don’t come to me fast enough. There's like a barrier in my brain."
"Yea, I know what you mean..."
"But I'll get it. I'm more determined now than I was when I was younger."
They move from the dining table and sit with me around the small, square coffee table.
"Let's play Uno!" She moves a beaded blonde braid from her face and places the deck on the coffee table. Her name is Gemma.
"Does everyone know how to play?" I never catch his name. 
"Singles and doubles? Stacks?" Or his. 
"You can put a draw two on top of a draw two?" 
They are all sandy-blondes. Surfer-types. Birkenstocks and Sperry’s. Tethered cargo shorts and sleeveless tanks. Tall and well built. Gemma is petite. Flat stomach. Blinding white smile. 
"So did you sneak in through Mexico?" 
"No I'm legally here. Flew from Dulles to Miami." 
"But how?" 
"I applied for a freelance-journalist VISA and I got it."
"Does everyone have 10 cards?"
"I usually play with 7..." My days at Woodlands High School flash before my eyes. My old frienimies and I played religiously at lunch. Every game was intense. We once got so rowdy with a game that Dean Washington banned Uno cards from school, entirely. Of course, that didn’t stop us. We weren’t big on rules. Hell, most of us weren’t even supposed to be in the caf’ during that lunch period – my ass was supposed to be in Math-B class. Thigpen and the other noon-aids never really knew who was supposed to be in class or not. And they never told us to put the cards away, unless Washington was coming – which was rare. You never really saw him outside of his office.
The red room is quiet as we start sorting our cards. Gemma disrupts the still.
“So you taught in Baltimore?”
“Yep… 7 years.”
"What did the riots all start from? 
Everyone looks up from their hand. I take a deep breath before starting.
"Well. . ." I pause. All eyes on me. Carefully, I collect my thoughts before letting them out. “There were many reasons for what was actually an uprising. It was not riots nor was it really a riot. Baltimore has a lot more issues than I can map out in just one sitting. But, the spark that ignited the flame that burned those businesses down was not exactly when the police beat and killed Freddie Grey, a Black, unarmed, 25 year old man. It was the fact that those officers were not initially charged. They weren't taken to jail. They were given a paid vacation."  
"Yeah! There was a shocking video that I saw online ... of pretty much exactly what you're talking about. There was a big Black man and he was choked to death. I think it happened before the Baltimore riots..." 
"And there's that kid that was shot in the middle of the street right?” 
“But didn’t he rob someone before he was shot?”
“Why don’t the police go to jail?”
“And last year, that guy with the hoodie and candy in his pocket?” 
“A lot happened in New York this year too, right? Protests for change?" 
"What's Obama saying?"
The rush of questions mentally transports me to my classroom. I don’t want to just give them answers, I would rather provide them with the literature to find our for themselves…
"It’s crazy, to me, that you guys know so much about our justice or lack-of-justice system. But don’t believe everything you see online. It's being considered a trend right now in the States but it's been going on for years, hundreds of years. The abuse of power among police is far from trendy. It’s a staple in our history that gets completely ignored and denied by the people who have the power to change things. Just feels like it’s new because of YouTube. Don’t watch the news; instead, read the statistics on victims of police brutality. Numbers don’t lie. Well, sometimes they do but the point is, Baltimore wanted something that we, as Black people rarely get – justice – by any means."
I am ready to change the subject. I put down a blue reverse. 
"So, tell me about the Aborigines .." 
Taboo. But unlike my card, I can't reverse the asking of my question.  
"When I was there…” Inquisitive blue and green eyes dash from each other before landing back on me. They had no idea I was in Australia just a couple of months ago. “I was on Bondi Beach. And you know how the boardwalk has all of those murals?" 
Collectively, they respond, "Yea..." 
"There was one that was spray painted with ‘Black Lives Matter’ and I was like wowwww... They know about this all the way out here? You know? Because it originated in New York City when Eric Garner was murdered by a policeman... the one that you saw get choked to death on video... the officers in that case didn't get locked either. So, I was shocked like, wow?! They care about that all the way out here?! But when we flew from Sydney to Melbourne and turned on the news, we saw protests taking place for the Aborigines and the people in the crowd were holding ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs."
"When was this?"
 "Are you serious?" Gemma leaned in and dropped a wild card. “Yellow.” I pull out my phone and show them a video I have of an Aboriginal man we met while thrifting in Melbourne. 
"They have all these closures happening." Gemma explains, "'Cause there's a lot of rural communities of Aboriginals. The Aboriginals aren't sustaining them so the government is closing them. And I think that's the issue that people are fighting for."
"I mean it's been an on going thing with them. For years and years and years..." One of the guys adds.
"It's not as bad as what happened to African Americans but - like - you know the rate of aboriginals in jail - like compared to the population size - it is ridiculous."  
"They're over represented." I say, knowing all too well about the concept of over-representation as it regards to people of color in prison and in Special Education.
"Ohhh!!! DRAW 4!!!" 
"Yea... Way over – like times a hundred. But you don't hear about them as much on the news like you do in America."
"You're right. I only know about this because I read up on it before going to Aussie but no one talks about this." 
"Oooo!!! Draw 2 4 6 8 10!!!"  
"Daaammmnnn!!" The boys are killing each other. 
"Yea, they're all rural. Like there's one area of Sydney where you'll find some Aboriginals but other than that they're in communities out the back. And there are problems with them that are crime related. They've had to ban alcohol from them..." 
"Whaaaattt?" Using my long granny-gossiping whisper.
"Yeah, it just becomes a problem."
"It's not safe in their territories."
"What about places like Queensland?" I remember our Sudanese taxi driver in Melbourne telling us to be careful if we went there. 
"There are a lot out there."
"Most are in communities in the north... places that the government is paying for. The government is paying for it all and they don't really take advantage of it... They muck it up."
"It's a very complicated issue."
"It's more like the Native Americans... You know what I mean?"
"Yes, I agree... And then there's the black-birding that occurred. Like, it's one thing for the people that were there already to have their land stolen from them but it's another for people to be brought to the land to work, split from their people, and then taken back to any random island after their work is done and there's no longer a use for them."
The room comes to a deafening silence.  
"What do you mean?" 
"Before our time, even before your parents' time, people were taken from India and other South Pacific islands to work in Australia. They were told they would be given the chance at a better life but it was a hoax. They were pretty much slaves. Then, when the government decided the population of those people of color was growing too high, they were rounded up and taken to any island; not to their homeland."
"Then they enacted the White Australian law ..."
"Ohhhh yeaaa..." Suddenly, everyone knows what I am talking about.  
"So no one was allowed to come in and settle, except white Europeans. They especially wanted to keep the Japanese out because they were getting all of the gold."
"There's still a lot of racism. It's just not blatant."
"A few Black girls I met out there said the exact same thing. But I might say it's bigger than just racism. So much bigger. But before I learned about
that, all I knew about was the convict aspect of Aussie."
 "Because that's what Australia started with - the convicts. My great grand father told me stories about his great grandfather being a convict, shipped over from England.”
"But y’all do know Australia was started after the Ice Ages with the Africans who migrated from the Motherland, right? Or is that not acknowledged in your schools? Its definitely not something I learned in mine or on any tour that we went on while there. Our guide was just so proud of his 'convict blood'..."
"We learn that but not in those words." He laughs and continues with  his platitudes. "It's funny because they say convicts but their stories are like: people who were hungry and stole a loaf of bread – they were sent to Australia." 
"Let's go with red ..." 
"Do they teach you guys about our history in your schools?"
"Not really. Unless you choose to start US History in your eleventh and twelfth grade years but even then it's very basic - and it's more so about the world wars. I wanted to take U.S. History, it seems so interesting."
"Is college free?"
"No, but it's not as expensive as yours..."
"But I thought Obama was going to make college free..." 
"I’m sure it will never be free in the States, honey! If everyone is educated, no one is educated. UNO!" 
“Valencia! You cheated! All this teaching us, tricking us, and making us lose track!”
“Ahhhh yes! Blacks never win anything without cheating! They have no talent or special skills. American History lesson number 1!”

They laugh. So do I. And Marisol comes in smiling, “Venga y comer la cena está lista."


  1. WOW! I am hooked to your storytelling. I admire your ability to weave words so simple but on complicated issues. Thank you Sistar:)))))))

  2. What did you mean by "If everyone is educated, no one is educated"?


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