Let me tell you, Martina and I have shared some serious heart to hearts, mostly about our young boys and being a single mom. She is truly one of the toughest and strongest (and funniest lol) mommies I know, and I am honored to share her story today. Read her story on how she and her family are coping with The Black Lives Matter movement.
Hello Ugly Duckling readers, my name is Martina Pena-Jones and my journey begins on October 19,1982 in Garden Grove born to a Latin American mother and African American father. They decided to stop after me because perfection had arrived 😉. But wait, let’s go back just a little bit further, my mother is first generation. My late grandmother, who we affectionately called “Nani” was from Sonora, Mexico and my late Grandfather who we affectionately called “Papi” was from Grandada, Nicragua. Their origin story to the states is common amongst most Latino immigrants and that is to come to the United States for a better opportunity. They quickly became affluent, bringing their parents and siblings to this country, purchasing a home, holding down careers and raising a family of their own. My fathers side of the family is from Monroe, Louisiana. They lived in many places down south before making California their home. These details are important because they heavily influence my identity and outlook on life.
Now back to me because that is the story you are really here for, right? Although I was born in Orange County I was raised in Long Beach. If you did the math you would have guessed that I am close to 40, this means most of my teen years were in the 90’s. Wait one more time, I have to give you some background of the 90’s. Life in the 90’s was all about putting your hair in a side pony with a scrunchie, over using Aquanet, saying “this is the 90’s”, gossiping about the latest Melrose Place episode and riding bikes to your friends house in your new Grant Hill’s and bright green slouch socks that match the scrunchie of course! It was also a very difficult time as it was the peak of the crack epidemic, gang violence was at an all time high, mass incarceration of black and brown people and the start of gentrification. More projects were being built to push black people out of neighborhoods and into these projects. Laws were passed to block blacks from purchasing homes. The Rodney King beating in 1992 stemmed from a long history of police brutality in Los Angeles. The Watts riots in 1965 was where the civil unrest and police brutality began in LA. Let’s just say I’m lucky to have survived the 90’s with just bad hair and fashion sense.
All these details are important because it will help you understand how those events have snowballed and here we are dealing with anguish, frustration and hopelessness that we are feeling today. Since I have lived through this I have a better sense of how to cope and how to teach my children not to repeat vicious cycles.
The Black Lives Matter movement is our generation's Black Panther Party. A huge difference I see between them is that more races, ethnicities and countries are now standing behind us. It seems we are just now realizing this isn’t a “black problem” but an our problem. In order for the unfair treatment and police violence against any person of color to end we all have to acknowledge what has happened in the past, address it united and heal from generational trauma. This is the challenge I feel we face today.
At the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests I felt it important to explain to my children (8 and 4 at the time) what was happening. I first asked for their level of understanding of what they were seeing on the news on police brutality, how it made them feel, and what you can do to be more kind. We participated in local peaceful protests, making signs and putting a plan in place just in case things went bad. Thankfully, all the protests were small and safe and my children got to experience unity through peaceful protests.
As a bi-racial single mom who is raising 2 black boys (even though they are mixed with 4 ethnicities they will be labeled and seen as black) it is very frightening to think that they could be a victim of police brutality. It has been extremely challenging remaining strong during this world shit show trifecta of a time we are living in. The trifecta I’m referring to is the global pandemic of COVID, political and civil unrest and economic hardship. Did I forget to tell you that during this time I had several mental breakdowns thinking I was a complete failure and everything I have done for the past 20 was a complete waste of time and money!?! Oh and I live at home, double loser 😂🤣.
Through all this hardship, we are all still dealing with the “Trifecta”. Justice still hasn’t been served for those who have lost their life at the hands of the police, stay at home orders are slowly being lifted and some of us are still waiting on their fist stimulus check. So how can we push forward? I find hope by talking with others who feel the same as me. I create time for myself to read or self-care or push myself to workout. I often communicate with my kids about how they are feeling in school. We share ideas on what we are going to do when the world opens up. Tama wants to stay at a treehouse and Ty wants to go to Legoland, Florida. This stimulus check has to come through, yikes!
I believe we are finally starting to realize we have been extremely way too hard on ourselves about things that really don’t matter. I mean, many of us share the same story. Our parents or grandparents come from similar hardships; whether it was fleeing an oppressive country or fighting for freedom and civil rights. Our parents went through some shit and now the pressure is put on us to not only succeed but avoid confrontation from the police as much as possible. It can be hard to overcome when the odds are already stacked against you; you’re a woman, you are black, you're a single parent, you’re a black man, you’re a dreamer, first generation, the list can go on. What helps me overcome all these adversities is knowing my family's story. The same strength it took my grandparents to get to this country or fight for civil rights is the same strength that is in my DNA.
Currently, I am getting ready to go back to school. I just got accepted into the MAT program at USC (Master’s and Teaching credential), to start on my 2nd career as a secondary Social Science teacher. I’m really proud of this because USC is Papi’s Alma Mater. I make time to spend time with my kids to just hang out and enjoy each other's company. I will share our family's story with them because it’s so rich in history. I will always be open to dialogue with them no matter how uneasy. My hope for the future of my children is that they don’t have to deal with fighting for their natural born rights of equality.
I hope you all enjoy this read. Thank you Coach for allowing the opportunity to share my journey. Finish Strong ✊🏾
Here are some of my recommendations for when you find some leisure time:
The Four Agreements
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later (YouTube/ A&E)
Let it Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 (Netflix)
Go the F*ck to Sleep (children’s book)
- Martina Pena-Jones