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The Self-ish Latina Podcast: Season 2, Season 2, Ep. 005: Brenda Aviles

I think it’s really important to note that this podcast is made by filmmakers so we’re trying to bring you in the moment here with us. We’re trying to paint a picture without being able to use a video. And for us that’s super challenging, and so both Matt and Henry work really hard to create a listening environment that paints a picture and I think that is something that you should know before you listen, you’ll be in different rooms and different spaces [during this episode]. And so, this is more than just something you listen to while you’re doing the dishes, like you are going on a journey with us, so strap yourself in.


Brenda: Some people consider Manhattan New York City; some consider all five boroughs of New York City. I live in what’s called the “outer boroughs” of Manhattan, it’s not Manhattan proper. I’m a Brooklyn girl all day every day, I think you already know.


Denise: And it’s my pleasure to make sure that we made sure that you can eat everything tonight and receive it, because it was important and we were literally like okay looking through all these recipes and we’re like no but Brenda, okay but we’re going to do steak because I really wanted to steak, because I feel like steak is a celebratory like fancy things you know? And then also we wanted to make sure that there was something else the Brenda could eat.

Brenda: We now have to be able to step into our own greatness as the reasons why our families came here we got to live that out if we could only deal with that trauma and break those cycles that no longer serve us. So last night I kept thinking about like I wanted to write all of you love letters and it really started because of Melody. So, I was thinking about you and I was like these are the things I want to tell Melody. I need like the ancestors to hold me up. Mija, let me tell you all the things your mother couldn’t. Mija, did you know that your loved?

[Are] You ready, because I haven’t shared it with anybody, so you’re the first people. I was on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. I did okay. I have a really loud personality so I’m you know I’m not uncommon with being the center of attention. I’m excited, I feel like I took a risk in coming because initially it was just supposed to be like a get together, like let’s just you know let’s celebrate you, let’s give you a chance to relax after your crazy Hispanic Heritage Month and all the running around that you’re doing, and then it became like all of this. And I was like wait a minute. Now it’s getting bigger.

Two weeks ago, I was like you know what I’m not going. I’m just going to call, and it’ll be OK, it’s not a big deal, I’m just not going to go. I just didn’t feel like I was going to serve a purpose and I just felt like why am I going somewhere, to really be with people that I don’t really know? Like, I could have used this money to like to take my daughter somewhere and go on like some fun vacation or whatever, but then I felt like well I can’t get a refund so I might as well go. I already spent all this money, and I didn’t have the courage to call Denise and say, “hey can I have my money back because I don’t want to go,” so that was really what made me actually show up.


Intimate Moments at the Retreat

Cindy: But I had a moment talking to Denise because I pulled her aside and I said, I called my brother and I called my father and I said why did she invite me? I had so much anxiety this morning coming, up to a point where I’m like I’m not going to go. But then I said, no that’s just all that old stuff you know because I’m very shy around women even though I can seem very loud. You know so I was saying the same thing, my brother he’s like, well she must have something because she likes you, and you know how you are!

Brenda: That whole thing that self-taught, like am I worthy? You know, should I be there? Should I be doing something else? Like what am I going to bring to the table?

Denise: This is what people go through when they decide to give something to themselves. This is what Latina women go through when they decide to give to themselves completely. You know? So first it was like I don’t deserve this, I want to want to cancel, and I want to get a refund. And then it’s like yeah I did, [and] I’m doing this, and I don’t even know these women very well, but I already bared my soul. Having that realization, that these things are good and when you take a second or a minute for yourself in life and you put yourself around other amazing people is going to nurture you.


Introducing Melody Estrada

Melody: Yeah I mean similar to them; I don’t really know what to expect I’m really excited for the weekend and just their incredible stories and just what we’re here to really accomplish. But you know I guess we’ll just jump right in. I was born in Florida and I’m Cuban and Puerto Rican. We moved to California when I was four and I was raised around Mexicans, and I felt out of place.

My Spanish was different my hair was different, I mean my skin color was different, my culture, the food I ate, the music I listened to, everything was different. So even though we spoke the same language, you know it was a different dialect. I just I wish ..  My dad never talked about Cuba, so I just was kind of like where do I fit? And so, in meeting more Puerto Rican-Cubans and just more Latinos in the Caribbean these last three years it’s just been amazing because I’ve been so hungry to learn more about my culture and why I am the way I am. And a lot of questions have been answered.

Denise: So, for an intro with Mel – this is just interesting because if someone’s like a diehard followers they’re going to know my Stanford story – they’re going to know my Imposter Syndrome story right? And they’ll appreciate that Mel worked at the Stanford program and that’s how I know her. As a participant I could just tell she was like running the show and I could just tell by how she was being. I loved just seeing her kind of operate, I loved seeing her interact with other people, and then I was always receiving emails from her and she just seemed like a woman on a mission and who knew what was going on and I knew I wanted to work with her one day. So, we needed someone with Mel’s skill set and called her and she was available to fly into town and help us with the retreat.

Melody: I was mentioning this behind the scenes and a lot of the times you know with Latina women you just go in and you don’t know if there’s going to be other barriers there right like their walls are going to be up. So, I mean we’re going to be a bunch of Latina women right up in nature. And so, you know it’s really comforting and good to know that all our barriers are down, and we’ve just met each other. But yet because of our backgrounds we share so much.


Brenda: There’s also this notion of you’ve got to tough it out, and you’ve got to be strong, and you don’t have the luxury of dealing with the breakdown when you’re trying to survive.


Melody: I never had time for therapy, never had the money for therapy. Both my parents were always working, and then they were working to make money. I’m sure that they thought that there was some use to therapy – but I don’t think mental health was as sexy as it is now, if that makes sense. There is this whole trend around mental health and making sure that self-care is [a priority] and when I was growing up that wasn’t really something people talked about, like you don’t talk about your problems.


Brenda: Culturally, also there’s this whole thing about well we don’t share that in public. You know we don’t air our dirty laundry; this stays here in the house; this doesn’t leave this house. In some ways you do get trapped because the silence drops you.


Melody: I believe we’re guarded because that’s what we’re taught. I mean growing up my mom would always be like – in Spanish – esto se queda aqui, which means this stays here. Like we’d get to church, and we’d be talking about something, really fighting or whatever, and she’d be like okay we’re here, so let’s get on and go and that all stays in the car now. And so, I think it just maybe protects us from judgment from people thinking that we have problems, people thinking or knowing that. So long as time is, everything had to be perfect.


Brenda: The silence keeps you in shame and it keeps you unable to really get the help that you need in order to really move forward and flourish versus just kind of surviving.


Denise: So, we’re taught at a very young age that our struggles are not as big or important as the family struggles. Then you’re going to hear, your crying? I’m going to give you something to cry about, wait until you hear what we sacrificed for you, wait until you hear what this person has had to deal with to give you that food that you don’t like, or give you the room that you think is too small, or give you the clothes that you think that you don’t appreciate. So, the impact over time is this feeling that my feelings don’t matter, and it’s not like people are like you know what I grew up with the sense that my feelings didn’t matter and that’s what I’m struggling with right now. Like people don’t have an awareness of that, they just believe that it’s true your feelings don’t matter what matters is the family and their struggle. That’s what matters.


Brenda: I think where we’re tapping into some really raw obstacles that we’re kind of helping each other get over. Just you know like the stigmas behind some of the issues, because for Janeli it’s HIV and for me I think it’s like depression, where we’re dealing with all of these stigmatized issues that so often keeps us stuck. Because we don’t talk about it, that’s another cycle that we’re breaking, because we don’t talk about it we stay stuck.


Melody: I’d be lying to you if I didn’t think about what people thought about me after I shared that my life is not perfect or that I actually struggle with depression and anxiety, and panic attacks. Because you know to you to the world everyone just sees a smile and like a lot of joy. Which is ironic.


Brenda: We don’t get to realize our full potential and we don’t get to live our best lives because there’s no one who’s talking about it or if we do it’s kind of like okay, but we’re not going to talk about this you know out there it’s just between us. So, I think that we’re onto something like we’re breaking barriers where we’re crushing those obstacles and we’re saying look guys we’re here and we’re going to talk about it and we’re willing to heal. And I dare say even break some really damaging cycles that we’ve sort of been caught up in generationally.


Melody: When we focus on getting unstuck we can free other generations and I truly believe that. I believe in breaking generational curses. And so, if I can end it with me I’ll pass it on to my kids. And so, it’s selfish if I don’t deal with it.


Brenda: So, my line of thinking was like think of all the youth that we can empower who can then own who they are unapologetically and just conquer the world. So, I first heard about it through Facebook social media, turns out that it was like a film and I was like oh I definitely want to see that. I’m all about supporting all of these projects when it comes to dealing with our culture. So, I went through a free screening that was being held at the college.


Denise @ Event: I was born in Manhattan in Beth Israel Hospital and brought back to our apartment in Rosehill Gardens in the Bronx. My father was also born in New York City, his parents were from Cuba and Puerto Rico which made him an Eñye too.


Denise: So, it’s our job in the project to set the stage and the film is a great example of setting a stage and if you haven’t seen it check out, Being Eñye Film Link. Something clicks for people when they see it.


Brenda: I went with my best friend and we were just overwhelmed by how much we identified with what was going on in the screen and just feeling like wow. We felt seen. We felt validated. We felt like we are not alone. This is not an island that we’re on.


Denise: Brenda looks like she could have been a childhood friend of mine from the Bronx. I just loved how excited she was to meet me and like wow I’m like I’m the person that makes other people feel like this. But it’s because of something substantive. It’s not because of something shallow. It’s different than celebrities – because its celebrity is just about celebrity – and it’s about like looking good and it’s about being just shallow. It’s about nothing important, and what this is about, what this work is about, what I get to be about it’s about changing lives and changing the community and transforming a conversation and the fact that someone would be excited to be around me. It means that they’re excited to be around this work. It means that they care and of course that was the case with her.


Brenda: For me it was like well Denise had the courage to go out there and talk about something that she was really struggling with, so why can’t I have the courage to talk about something that I’m also struggling with? And so, I think I’ve done a lot of work around just being more open and not feeling ashamed for feeling the way that I do. Not to say that it’s like over that it’s easy like I’m done I’m good, absolutely not, but there is a model out there. You know and it’s also someone who represents my experience.

I’m not alone on this journey. There is no judgment. There is no shame. There is support and empowerment. And that’s what this weekend is about for me and just the camaraderie of strong women being together, uplifting and holding each other up, I feel like [this is the] medicine that we need. We need to be refueled.

We’re out there fighting our battles whatever they may be and we’re out there you know finding ourselves figuring out who we are who we want to be. And it can be exhausting. And if you have children and you’re trying to break those cycles and you try to empower them and you know you’re at work, so you need a place that you can come to where you can you know recharge. And for me that’s what this feels like, like I need to recharge I need a source or a fountain of support of love of nurturing. And so that’s what it is for me and it’s really strange right because like Janeli, said we’re just meeting each other for the first time but it doesn’t feel that way.

I’ve bared my soul already and I haven’t even been here like twelve hours. I think it’s important. We’re packing up to come one of the things that Denise had told us was I want you to be ready to receive and I didn’t know that was going to look like. And I was really uncomfortable with it, but I said I’m going to do my best to do that. I’m always thinking about how am I going to give? So, you know that’s what I was trying to pay attention to. So, I decided to just write a little something for all the people who were involved in the project and I kind of like the roles that they played.


Denise: The retreat was really the natural evolution of that conversation. It’s when five people that have been talking about this for years get together physically and get to talk about it in person. It’s incredible what happened and that you’re listening to is just the tiniest little bit of what it was like to be there.


Moments from the Retreat

Retreat Ladies Thanks for leading the way for our story. Well thank you for having the courage.

Brenda: I couldn’t sleep last thing because I was so overwhelmed and anxious and there was just so much going on and I couldn’t process it and I just couldn’t sleep. And I freaking had melatonin, which is what I’m going to do tonight, so after this some out y’all. I’m going to pop a pill and I’m going to bed because I’m on like three hours. So, like to be on three hours and to have had gone through all of this emotional excavating that we’ve done.

I’m emotional, I’m emotionally drained.  I don’t have the capacity to give right now anymore but I couldn’t sleep last night and oftentimes I’m haunted by words like I’m not a writer in any shape or form but I’m haunted so sometimes little snippets of stories will come to me like when I fall I can’t sleep I’ll get up at 3:00 in the morning and it’s like some kid talking to me. So, I got to go write down those lines and then I put them away.

Last night I kept thinking about like I wanted to write all of you love letters and I kept thinking about so this is what I’m going to share with this person this is what I want to share with this person and I plan to do that at some point but I did like a collective love letter and it really started because of melody right. So, I was thinking about you and I was like these are the things I want to tell Melody. This is for melody and for all of us. I haven’t titled it yet. I need the ancestors to hold me up.


Brenda’s Collective Love Letter


Let me tell you all the things your mother couldn’t. Mija, did you know that you are loved? That you matter? Have I asked you for forgiveness? I’m sorry for not being the mother that you needed me to be. But this does not mean that I love you any less. Your light is so bright. Forgive me for every time I diminished it. I just don’t know any other way. Please know that this is not you that I diminished, but myself. Have I told you that I want you to shine? Even if it hurts, Mija sometimes I get confused because I’m supposed to teach you but you have been my greatest teacher. And sometimes this is hard. This is very hard. No one taught me but I tried and sometimes my try wasn’t good enough. Can you forgive me. You how you’re the most important thing to me. My most prized possession, the most precious gift. It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s that I don’t know how and sometimes I have to love you in a way that you wouldn’t recognize. Please know that good or bad, imperfect as I am, I do love you. Know that you are enough as you are.


Brenda: From my point of view, from me, I just feel like you were brought to us so that we could help you, so that we could help you heal, and we would never abandon you because we don’t leave. We don’t leave. But you must do the work. It is easy to hide. It is easy to make excuses. The challenge is in being great. So that was for all of us. That was like a gift for all of you because at some point or another everyone has shared something about either their mom or their experience as a mom and feelings of inadequacy have come up and all these things that you have yet to realize what you’re stepping into now that you’re stepping into motherhood. But she’s not there yet, so I feel like we have to carry her there and then I started thinking about all of you.

Melody: The crazy thing about what you read is that my mom sent m361134e that in Spanish. She said you know I love you, I’m sorry I failed you. And so, when you read it I mean immediately when you said Mija I just fell, like I was like Oh my God.

Brenda: You know why, because it’s universal. I have failed my daughter so many times.  I failed her. I have not been the mother she needed. This is not exclusive to you. And part of my sharing is to help you heal. You’re not alone, that you know our moms do the best they can. And we have a right to get mad and throw a tantrum, like what the fuck. But you also have an opportunity to heal from that. So that was just a little gift. I start thinking about everybody kind of personally, what everyone is like.

Denise is our guide and you have been our guide, and I think part of what you wanted to do is guide a bunch of people.

Theresa is our quiet warrior and you are leaving nobody.

Janeli is our voice, our awareness.

Eloisa is our potential to be free. I see you boo. I think she thinks that we don’t see her, but we see you.

Cindy you are a representation of our survival because we will not be diminished, and that is what you are, you are our joy.

Lupe, you are our encourager, our validator.

Melody, you are our future and you will be our song.


Melody: There was so much in common with Brenda, it was like the floodgates opened. And all these memories and trauma started coming and I was just in silence just kind of holding it in because I was like, oh my God I haven’t dealt with this. Because she was talking, I was like, oh my God that’s my mom, and my God that’s me, and my god that’s my mom and my God that’s me. I wasn’t wanting to talk about these problems and secrets about my mother and telling her how much it did affect me and how much I do long for a relationship with her.

I saw a little bit of my mom in Brenda, but then a little bit of me and her. So, she’s kind of like in between us. Just as her expands with her mother and then just how she is with her daughter and I kind of saw myself, you know in the future with the kid and me not dealing with this and how she’s dealing with it now. How she mentions that she had where she had worked on it sooner. So, for me it’s kind of like a reality check.


Denise: So, what I need to say to be complete is like that, I appreciate everyone there trusting me to create a great space for them, and for being super vulnerable and also for like being ok with the unknown kind of feelings. And that came up that weekend and that probably came up after and not like maybe getting mad at me for being responsible for that excavation you know? So, my intention isn’t to have people feel bad. Like I really want people to feel powerful. So, I’m like super, super committed to getting better so I can serve better.


Brenda: We got here, and it was just so much so much deeper than that. It was so profound it makes you feel really seen. In a way that sometimes your own family doesn’t see you, so it was um it was just a beautiful weekend of giving and receiving. And it was done with no real pressure, it just happened really organically, and everything really worked out beautifully.

That was the other thing that I learned, that initially I thought what I had to offer wasn’t tangible it wasn’t like touchable. Then the weekend happened and particularly when Janeli said you know it is because of you that I have healed and grown in some way and I was like it is tangible.

If you need a safe space, if you need some healing, if there are things you want to talk about but you’re afraid to talk about with other people and you have an opportunity to do something like this; to be loved, to be recognized, to be honored, then jump in. Don’t listen to the little voice that tells you all the lies that you should not believe. Just jump in. We’re here, we’re waiting for you.


Brenda: What I really wanted to say was thanks to Denise, because this was my idea initially and it was not supposed to look like this. I was like oh let’s just get together for a week that would be really great. And then it turned into all of this. Thank you for creating this fan-fucking-tastic opportunity for all of us to just fucking love each other.

Denise: Thanks for trusting me.


Denise: Because these conversations aren’t happening, like no one’s broadcasting these conversations. It’s so hard to talk about the mother-daughter relationship without feeling terrible, especially when you’re a mom yourself. You know, like how can a how can I talk about that pain without wondering am I causing it? And then conversely how can I not talk about it when I know there’s pain and I know their struggle?

I also know there is a light at the end of the tunnel, that the awareness sets you free, that they’re realizing you’re not alone sets you free, and that you get a chance to reinvent. That’s like the ultimate in freedom that you’re in control and you get a chance to do it with other people and develop new relationships that are based on something super positive.

So, verses just affirming pain it’s affirming reinvention, and affirming transformation, and affirming a version of you that’s happy with what you’ve got because you created it. That’s what keeps me going, is being able to capture these conversations and share them with the world and inspire more conversations because the promise is healing for everybody.


Thank you so much for listening to this episode of The Self-ish Latina Podcast. If you are loving these episodes don’t be shy, slide into my DM’s and let me know what you think!

For extra special awesome credit, we’d love you forever if you’d left a review for us on iTunes. Also, if you’re curious and you want more information about our next retreat in August of 2019 in the Rocky Mountains, here is the link, you can add yourself to the waitlist and we will send you more information on the retreat.

This episode is brought to you by the Eñye Dream accelerator. If you would like an application for our next cohort which starts in just a few weeks please DM on IG and I will send it to you personally.

Thank you for listening to the Self-ish Latina Podcast where we get to be selfish together.

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