A long overdue follow-up with Susana Santizo-Lanuza
It’s a “funny” feeling to have had 12 books published… and to wanna' disown (at least) 10 of ‘em!
I was working on one of those long-renounced tomes exactly 15 years ago and that effort involved me collecting stories and anecdotes from more than 20 artists and activists. As I recently perused that list of names, I realized that I remain in touch with only one of them: Susana Santizo-Lanuza.
Here’s how Susana introduced herself to us in fall 2002:
I was born in Guatemala. My parents Sylvana and Jorge did their best to support their three children in a Third World country without prostituting themselves (drug trafficking, stealing, joining the Mafia or the corrupt and often fatal military). They struggled to put food on the table and then headed out to New York. The trip took three months by bus, car, train, and foot. I spent my first birthday in Los Angeles. Coming here “illegally” was the best decision my parents had ever made. Approving a visa took too many years. I would’ve been a child selling homemade products in the street, someone with the potential to become a great teacher of life and no opportunity to use it. Is there anything sadder? Despite the circumstances, I grew up very fortunate. My parents were always working (Mami cleaned houses; Papi was a cook in a nursing home and he occasionally worked in factories) but our needs were always met and we had three meals a day. I made a promise long ago. I would become a teacher, not just someone with a degree. Someone who found the truth in so many lies and wants to share it with everybody. My writing inspires me every day, to see that no one could ever take any credit for showing me my outstanding love for truthful words. I am very proud of myself! I know I will accomplish what I always said I would do. Show the world that life is only worth living when you discover the worth of living, I will do it going against the grain and I will create a stronger new one.
When I reached out to ask if she’d wanted to chat, Susana was more than willing: “I’ve recently reconnected with my older sister and she asked me something that I used frequently at dinners and get-togethers: Had I continued living my truth? I wanted to be so many things and I never finished anything. Then a message from Mickey Z. pops up! Timing is fucking everything! So I am actually at a fork in the road and holy shit, I'm excited about it.”
Thus began our long overdue follow-up interview…
Mickey Z.: Thanks for doing this, my friend. At the risk of oversimplifying things, how are ya?
Susana Santizo-Lanuza: I am currently at a fork in the road and I’m waiting for some sign, a clue so I could keep taking steps towards something. Not sure what that is. I've been on survival mode for about six years so I'm trying to get my groove back.
MZ: Please catch me/us up a bit.
SSL: I’m a mother to three boys, one fur baby and a super-supportive (in more ways than one) ex-wife to an awesome man who -- on our good days -- I consider my best friend. Fifteen years ago, I never wanted any of those things, but the universe doesn't give a shit what you want. It offers you opportunities and you either take it or decline. I always did what I wanted and took the consequences like a champ. I've become selfless and now I have four people to hold me accountable for what I say and do. I still curse freely and that's the only vice I took with me on this ride, and I don't give a shit what other parents think.
MZ: You promised to become a teacher: “someone who found the truth in so many lies and wants to share it with everybody.” It appears to me you kept your word.
SSL: I've spent the last 15 years teaching my kids to be kind, helpful, brave, and to be mindful of what they read, watch, say, and eat. I worry about who they are and what they do, not what they look like. For a moment I thought I lost myself, I felt like I let who I was and my dreams down. I stopped reading and writing but I also started doing. Being active in the things I felt were important. Being a great mom and a good example for my boys. Being a good friend and a great neighbor. Being a good woman even when my ex-husband sucks.
MZ: How has this changed you? Do you feel confined in any way?
SSL: I barely miss my freedom. I still love words, using them and sharing them. I believe in word power so I still am very careful of what I say and who I say them to, who I have conversations with and what I read. I don't like to argue but I’m honest about what I feel. I still would like to write but I'm in no rush.
MZ: In the book, I asked everyone to own up to where and how they lie on their resume. You confessed that you often list your skills as: “able to give and take orders.” Then you added: “I suck at both.” May I assume you’ve gotten a little more adept at the “giving orders” part? If so, how do you feel about that?
SSL: I work in the administrative side of things at my job now and I have learned to receive assignments and be part of the team. At home, I've learned to delegate chores and daily routines BUT I don't like to be told what to do or how to do it if I have done the assignment before. I also don't care to repeat myself to my children or ex-husband if I was clear the first time. It's something that I take too personal and I have to realize that it's not always about me. It could be just as hard for them to give and take orders.
MZ: In 2002, you talked about how you “always attract a certain type of guy: older, conservative, and close-minded” and since you’re “very free with my words,” you “never get to the second date.”
SSL: Since the book 15 years ago, I dated a few more conservative men. Never went anywhere but I wasn't really looking for forever -- just good company and a warm body when I was lonely. I took a leap and tried dating men my own age and with backgrounds similar to mine but it became boring to have so much in common. I became pregnant at 22 with my oldest son Isaiah and had a restraining order against his biological father. My efforts changed and I looked for security in hopes that everything would fall into place. I married one of my best friends when I was 30. It felt easy and at the time a no-brainer. Attraction and good company -- why not try it forever. Well, “forever” meant three children and divorced at 34.
MZ: In light of all you've experienced, I wanna bring this back to the original topics of my 2002 book: art and activism. From someone your age now, a woman of color, a mother, someone with a "serious" job, a wife/ex-wife, etc. -- how have the concepts of art and activism evolved in your mind? Do you feel like an artist and/or activist today and if so, how?
SSL: Art will always be important to me. I love reading articles and watching documentaries (because I haven't been able to commit to a book) and sharing what I've read and watched with friends and my older sister, getting the gears going. Watching something moving and mulling it over in my head for days. Words still make me happy in a way that no other thing can. I feel like there are still gaps in mainstream art. For women and/or people of color. Notice the and/or. I was watching a movie with my family and my 14-year-old nephew leans over and whispers "notice how they only have one brown person in the group in every movie" I leaned back and said "yes nothing new. Notice that there's only one female and she's white.” He chuckles and says "yeah and she's a lesbian so they covered everything.” Some people would be outraged and the truth is I'm not. I don't care if I’m not included in movies or art exhibits or literature because I watch movies where I am and I go to exhibits where everyone looks and talks like me. I read in Spanish and watch shows and movies in Spanish that don't have subtitles. If I go somewhere and I'm the only female or person of color, I walk in and smile and say hello to everyone strike up a conversation on occasion. It hasn't always been easy but I am the living, walking proof of a woman of color and I've been representing that my whole life. I don't walk with my head low I don't lighten up who I am. I use my full name and I speak Spanish when I want to. It used to bother my older son when people stared but I taught him that some people were raised to believe we are different so when they stare he waves and says hi. Ninety percent of the time they wave and smile back. Do I believe this can fix the world? No, but I do believe it plants a seed.
MZ: Is this a perception shaped by the Trump era?
SSL: The world hasn't really changed for me. I know I should say it has, but it hasn't. I still have to walk around in my skin defending and proving all the same things. I still get asked: Doesn't it bother you as a woman of color? As a woman of color, how does it make you feel? As a human being, it still bothers me. As a human being, I wish we could all be included in everything but I'm okay with having our own until we are. Our communities are rich in culture and values and always have been it is not a new concept for us. The Trump era is no different than any other era, the only difference is now people have the guts to say it to my face instead of whispering it. I have always been an immigrant. I have always been a female. I have always been a person of color. I believe activism has to start on a personal level.
MZ: What does that last statement mean to you?
SSL: Words are important. Being truthful is important. Being helpful, with what you can do and give. Being an actively good person is someone I've always been. Now I share that and model it for my kids and my nieces and nephews. I also make them question everything. I ask them: Why do you think that is? What does that mean to you specifically? I believe that protesting is important because it gives the need for change a voice. It also gives the activist a personal perspective of what change looks like or mostly what it doesn't look like. I have been to very few protests when I was younger and I just couldn't get with it. I live my values and beliefs. I am honest about them and I will pass that on to my boys. Change through word of mouth is free.
MZ: One of the last questions I asked 15 years ago was this: If you could be doing what you really want to be doing, what exactly would it be? You replied: “I wish I could own acres of rich land. Grow my own food and bathe in the waterfall that’s behind my house. Every night my family would come over for dinner under the moon and we would sing and tell stories. I would publish all my books but I would never leave my house.”
SSL: Oh god! I would still love to own acres of rich land and grow my own food. I’d love a lake or small waterfall close by. I have my family over every Saturday night for dinner and a movie. We like to sing and love to talk. But for now, it's in a small two-bedroom apartment.
MZ: Your closing bit of advice in 2002 was: “Always follow your heart. It will never fail you.”
SSL: I have always followed my heart. I fell flat on my face a couple of times but my choices came from an honest and good place. I don't regret anything. Not one second of any part of my life.
Mickey Z. is the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on the streets of New York City. To help him grow this project, CLICK HERE and make a donation right now. And please spread the word!
'Are you living your truth?' by Mickey Z. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://worldnewstrust.com/are-you-living-your-truth-mickey-z.