Seeing Red, Feeling Dread

 

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The results of this election brings back some very painful memories for me.  Imagine this: It is 2008, I am walking around Costco with my one-year-old.  He is sitting in the cart while we were standing in line waiting for Papi to get “one last thing.”  I am snuggling with him and speaking words of love to him in Spanish.  “Dame un besito mi amor! (Give me a little kiss my love)!” He leans his head into me and kisses me in that sloppy way that little ones kiss.  I ask him  questions in Spanish asking him to point to his nose, his eyes, his head and he adorably complies.  Just then, a man walks by with his two teenage daughters and says, rather loudly, “I’m tired of hearing all this Spanish stuff! If you’re in America you should speak English.” I stay silent because I am with my baby and concerned that if I confront him he will make a scene, yell at me and scare my son.

Greg returns and immediately notices something is wrong. I tell him what happened and he jumps into rescue mode by approaching the guy and calling him out. He tells him that I have more education in my pinky than he probably does in his entire family tree. He asks him how many languages he speaks. He even calls the manager and tries to get his membership revoked.  We walk out. The man goes his way and we go ours.

That kind of interaction was all still very new and unfamiliar to my husband.  It wasn’t, however, the first time something like that has happened to me.  While this kind of ignorance is everywhere I knew that moving to Georgia would likely result in more in-your-face vitriol.  I am always ready for those kinds of interactions. Being ready for a proverbial slap in the face, however, does not mean it will hurt any less.

I was not, in any way, ready for last night’s election results.  I was afraid of it but not ready. I was genuinely concerned but not ready. I have followed this election very closely and watched both CNN and Fox News coverage.  I have listened to his speeches about Mexicans, “The Wall,” and deporting “illegals.”  I remembered the interview where he questioned the qualifications of a judge because, “He’s Mexican.”  I watched incredulously when he actually said the phrase “bad hombre” during a presidential debate.  But as I saw the electoral map grow more and more red, all I could think…all I could feel is, “Oh my God…look how much they hate us.”

Here’s the thing that scares me though.  Costco guy identified himself.  He let me know exactly who he was and how much he hated people like me (or in his mind, I guess, loved HIS country). To be honest it is easier to deal with people like that because I know who they are and where they stand.  The frightening thing, however, is the reality that I cannot possibly identify who does or does not support those “immigration policies.”  The people that scare me are not the Costco guys. They ones that truly scare me are the really nice people who would, with all sincerity, tell me, “He’s not talking about people like you Marisela. He’s talking about illegals. He’s talking about criminals.” These nice people don’t know my history.  They don’t know my status.  They don’t know my family.  They don’t know my community. They see a college-educated, upper-middle-class, light-skinned Latina who drives a BMW and is married to a White guy.  Therefore, I am not “one of those people.” What these nice people don’t understand is that I am those people and those people are me.

I know this election means that “the people” have spoken. I’m just deeply concerned with what they are saying, not just about Latinos but my brothers and sisters who were also in the crosshairs of this campaign including Muslims, members of the LGBT community, refugees, etc… Let me say again that many of these people, I’m sure, are very nice.  I know and have met a lot of very NICE Trump supporters.  Still…as an old friend once told me, “NICE people are usually the ones that are Not Inclined to Critically Examine.”

I don’t know if that red represents love for Trump or hate for Hillary but, honestly, both scare me.

MiChicana’s Mother…

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Martha Rodriguez was born in the small border town of Reynosa, Mexico.  She was one of eleven children who was forced to grow up at a  very young age.  She dropped out of school in the second grade to help her family make money by washing clothes and selling palomitas (popcorn) in the local market.  She was always very entrepreneurial which makes her story that much more remarkable.  There is so much I could write about my mother but the story of how she finally made her dreams come true is the best.

I jokingly tell people that tacos helped pay for my college education. My mother used to make tacos for my Papi to take to work.  At first it was 10-20 tacos but demand quickly increased that number to 100 tacos.  It was our ritual when I was in high school.  I would sit at the dining room table with my homework while my mother would make tacos. I can still smell the frijoles (beans) and ground beef mixture caressing my senses.  To this day, the smell of cumino immediately relaxes me.

She would wrap two tacos in aluminum foil and then, at the end, she would count them.  I can still hear the sound of her nails clicking against the foil as she counted the tacos under her breath.  Two…four…six…twenty…forty…click…click…click. At the end of her count she would always ask the same question.  “Mi’ja, if I opened up a restaurant, do you think people would like my food?” “Yes mom,” I’d respond, “People would LOVE your food.”

This was in early 90s. She would make tacos. My Papi would sell them to his co-workers.  Every evening it was the same routine.  I would often ask if I could help.  “No…no..no,” she would say. “You’re job is to do well in school. That’s your only job.” Needless to say, I took my job seriously which is why I’m not that great a cook despite my culinary heritage.

Years passed. My mother continued to work in the laundry department of the local V.A. Hospital and my father worked at a local factory.  I went off to college and, through scholarships and jobs, paid for approximately 3/4 of my college costs. The remaining balance was paid from those tacos my mother labored over every night.

In 1999, my mother and father traveled through the rinky dink town of Augusta, Michigan. It is a nothing little town you would miss if you sneezed.  She noticed a tiny little hole-in the-wall sub shop on the main drag.  My mother encouraged my father to stop in and look around.  It was right around dinner time and there were no patrons in the building.  I don’t even think ghosts hung out there.

Fortunately for my parents the owner was in the building.  My mother made inquiries. How much is rent? What are utilities, etc…? The owner cautiously said, “I don’t think people around here would like…Mexican…food that much.” My mother heard, “People don’t like Mexicans around here.” She was ready to raise holy hell. My father, the level-headed, light-hearted fellow that he is said, “Well…they are gonna love us!” He proceeded to tell the owner about our family and his successful daughters. By the end of the conversation, the owner and my father were best buds and my mother was calculating what she would need to transform the place from a sub shop to an authentic Mexican restaurant.

She purchased equipment wherever she could find it: auctions, restaurant closings, liquidation sales, etc…My sisters and I made up the initial staff. We were like the three stooges in those early days trying to learn to be waitresses, cooks, and bookkeepers.  It was all in the service of my mother’s dream. She had spent her entire life taking care of others. Now it was her time.  She still worked in the V.A. laundry during the day and the restaurant at night.  I remember I’d work in a law firm during the day and change out of my suit to wash dishes at night. It was all worth it because my mother had sacrificed so much for us…this was the least we could do for her.

She named the restaurant Nina’s Taqueria after my youngest sister. I am always asked if that makes me jealous. Frankly, it would have become “that Mexican restaurant” if she had named it after me or Marthalicia. Nina’s was the perfect name. Short. Simple. Sweet.

The restaurant opened in April 1999.  Word soon spread about Nina’s and the business grew bigger than any of us had imagined.  Today, my mother owns two restaurants, one market, and a car wash.  She is phenomenal in every way and one of the smartest people I know. Her commitment to excellence, to her customers, to her employees is bar none.  She is one of the most focused, ambitious, and innovative people I have ever known. I am so incredibly proud of her accomplishments.

My singular favorite moment with my mother was an evening after we had just finished cleaning the new building. She was preparing it to open and wanted everything to be perfect. We had just finished sweeping and mopping.  We were tired. We sat in the 70s style, orange, vinyl booths and looked around at her newest acquisition.  “Mi’ja,” she asked earnestly, “Do you think people really like my food?”

“Yes, mami,” I said. “People LOVE your food!”

Happy Mothers Day!

Mil gracias for reading,

Marisela Martinez-Cola

When Battle Creek meets Boston…

“You’re engaged. You’re engaged! We never think this would happen for you.
Never. Never!”
-Aunt Voula, My Big Fat Greek Wedding

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This is one of my favorite scenes of all time.  It beautifully sums up my life before meeting the love of my life that I married thirteen years ago today. Like Toula, my family did not think I would ever get married. Depending on who you asked, I was too educated, too chubby, too picky, too busy, and/or too stuck up.  It was 2001. I was 27-years-old, single, living by myself, no children, and working a very demanding job to which I was completely devoted.

My extended family would often ask me if I wanted children or to get married.  Many of my cousins had already had beautiful children of their own.  I, in frustration, would say, “No! I don’t want kids! Why do you care what is in my womb instead of my head? Why don’t you ask me about my law degree or encourage me to get a PhD instead of pregnancy?” I was not humble about my educational accomplishments at this stage in my life. I had worked hard to finish college and law school and I remember feeling frustrated because I thought my family did not care. “Besides,” I told them, “I can’t have kids until I meet the father. I can’t meet the father until I’ve met the husband. I can’t meet the husband, until I’ve met the boyfriend. I can’t meet the boyfriend until I meet the best friend! There is an order for me!” I was very traditional.

According to my family, then, my options were severely limited and I started to believe them. What made it even more challenging was that my younger sister was already married and definitely wanted children.  My fate, it seemed, was to be the “really cool Tia [Aunt] Mari.” I would tell my sister, “I’ll be the aunt that takes your kids on trips and stuff.”

Still, I was “in love” or so I thought.  His name was “Dr. Sean.” We met when he was in med school and I was in law school.  Match made in heaven right? Doctor and a lawyer? He was, I thought, the epitome of perfection.  I was, on the other hand, completely invisible. I swear I was the classic “friend” character in all those cheesy, 80s, unrequited love movies. Strange. Awkward. Not quite pretty but not completely heinous either.  I was Ducky.

Part One: Fredericksburg, VA

So how does a gal from Battle Creek meet a guy from Boston?  Answer: Summer Camp in Fredericksburg, VA. I had just finished taking the Bar Exam for the second time. I was determined to do something to help me forget the most evil exam on the planet. So…I decided to volunteer at a summer camp for kids in Fredericksburg, VA.  Yes, I decided to spend a week in the middle of nowhere, in the woods, being a camp counselor to eight year old girls! THAT experience was less stressful than the Bar Exam!

A few weeks before camp, I emailed the camp director asking if there was anyone who could pick me up from the airport.  Greg volunteered.  We exchanged a few emails and then I disappeared into the Bar Exam abyss.  Weeks passed. When I emerged, I gave him a call and said, “Hi Greg! This is Marisela. Are you still going to be able to pick me up from the airport tomorrow?” Little did I realize that Greg was in Seattle for business and was set to take the red eye back to Virginia that night. This poor guy is now going to have to fly home, sleep for a few hours, and then pick up this crazy Chicana from the airport which was furthest from his house.  I was a mess. He was the mop.

At the time I was going through a pathetic “Are you the One?” stage where I “fell in love” with every guy I met. Yes, Dr. Sean was my fantasy Boo but it was becoming pretty clear that he was not at all into me.  I remember sitting on the plane frustrated with myself.  I leaned my head against the window and thought, “Please…please don’t let me like this guy. He’s obviously really nice because he is picking me up but I just. want. to be. friends.”

I got off the plane and he was not there. This was before 9/11 when people were able to meet you at the gate.  I began walking down the hall and saw this frantic looking, older gentleman with glasses and no facial hair who was sporting “The Kennedy Swoop” for a hairstyle.  I remember thinking, “YES!!! There is no way I could be attracted to him!” I had a thing for facial hair and he was older.  Then I saw his hand and he had a ring on his finger.  Double yes!!! He’s off limits.

We exchanged hellos and pleasantries and walked out to his Saturn station wagon. “So…will your wife be volunteering at camp too?” I ask.  He let out a tremendous sigh.  “Well,” he said, “you are going to find out sooner or later.” In just over an hour, I learned about how, after 15 years of marriage, she cheated on him and broke his heart. He spilled his guts.  It was clear he was still in so much pain and my heart went out to him.  I asked him why he still wore his ring.  He said, “I won’t take it off until the divorce is final.  I don’t want anyone to think I am available when I’m not.” It was during that that car ride, we became friends.  I had never had such an open, honest, and vulnerable conversation with a man before.  And such integrity! This was a good guy.

Over the following week, we became even closer friends.  He was so kind and generous. Here I was going to volunteer at a summer camp and I brought NOTHING with me except clothes. No sleeping bag. No bug spray. No flashlight. Nothing.  He carted me all around Northern Virginia and helped me get the supplies I needed.  He had a cabin full of eight year old boys. I had a cabin full of eight year old girls.  We helped one another and encouraged each other that entire week.  My favorite moment was our shaving cream fight. He had this look of absolutely bliss on his face. I liked seeing him happy.

I returned to Michigan and we continued to keep in touch via email.

Part Two: New York City

I’ll never forget when things changed for us.  According to Greg, it was just after 9/11. We were talking about the phone calls people made from the planes. I told him I would call my younger sister.  He said, “I’m not that close to my family anymore so I don’t know who I’d call.” After a pensive pause I said, “You could call me.” [Insert awww].  I think we both began to look at one another differently that day.

Our friendship grew to the point that he wanted to take me out on an official date. His divorce was finalized in November and he scheduled a visit to Michigan over the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday in January.  That was supposed to be our first date but plans have a funny way of changing.

My parents were going through a divorce after 28 years of marriage. It was our first “broken” Thanksgiving and I was miserable bouncing from one place to another!! They say divorce hurts children. It hurts adult children too. I was determined not to play musical households again.  I decided I was going to volunteer…over Christmas…in New York City. I found a soup kitchen in the Bronx and was going to ask a friend from high school if I could crash with him.  That was my plan.  Fly to NYC, stay with JD, and volunteer in the Bronx. Greg, needless to say, was concerned about my plan…especially since I hadn’t heard from my friend and I was set to fly out the next day.  “That’s okay,” I said, “I will find a hotel online.” Priceline and Hotwire were just beginning to grow and the deals for Times Square were AWESOME!!

Greg, ever the planner, started asking me questions.
G:”How are you going to get to the hotel?”
M: “I don’t know…cab I guess.”
G: “Where exactly is this soup kitchen?”
M: “Um….not sure.” [papers rustling] “I have the address somewhere. I just know                         it is in the Bronx.”
G: “Are they open Christmas Day?”
M: “I don’t know…people have to eat right?”
G: “Um….Mari…I don’t know if this is a good idea.”
M:  “Oh I’ll be fine!”

Needless to say, he was a bit concerned so he suggested an alternate plan.  “Why don’t I come up there and we can have our first date? I have to come back to work the next day but then I’ll go back and pick you up on my way to Boston. Would you like to spend Christmas with my family in Boston?”

Part Three: Boston Bound

I landed at the airport. Butterflies in my stomach.  What if I don’t like him? What if we don’t click beyond friendship? What if he doesn’t like me? I walked out and saw him. He gave me the biggest bear hug and just knew everything was going to be okay.  “You look nice,” I said as we started walking. He began putting himself down.  I stopped. “Let’s try this again…you look nice Greg…and you say….” He laughed, “Thank you! Sorry…I’m not used to compliments.”

He took me to the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular. It was amazing.  Then we went to Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree to exchange presents.  I opened my presents. The first was a very matronly looking sweater.  The second was pretty earrings. It was the third one that floored me.  The third gift was a Peanuts sculpture of Lucy at her “The Doctor is In” advice booth. “No way!! No way!” I screamed. “You have to open yours!” His gift: a musical snow globe of Lucy and Charlie Brown at the advice booth!

We gave each other essentially the same gift!

He returned to Virginia that night, came back to pick me up the next day, and drove me to Boston. We spent the next few hours, laughing, talking, sharing stories…falling in love. I met his hilarious, very Bostonian family.  I was stuffed with an authentic Italian dinner compliments of his grandmother.  I had the time of my life.

When I returned to Michigan, my boss said I was floating six inches off the ground. That was it. I was in love. We were meant to be. I found my best friend.  Ducky won!

Mil gracias for reading,

Marisela Martinez-Cola

Conflicted not colorblind…

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Image from http://www.mtv.com

Why I will not watch the Nina Simone biopic starring Zoe Saldana…

I went to the movies this weekend and noticed that the Nina Simone biopic was released. Nina Simone. Her name makes me feel several emotions at once…emotions for which words haven’t even been invented yet. Her music has cradled me through some very dark times.  Her voices wraps around me like a warm blanket that helps the day melt away. Right now, I’m listening to A Single Woman and remembering sitting on a hilltop in Johannesburg, South Africa feeling lonely…yet invincible.

So how on Earth did a Chicanita from Battle Creek, Michigan get introduced to Nina Simone?  Simple…Elsa Barkley Brown, an amazing historian, scholar, and role model.  I took a course with Dr. Barkley Brown called Black Women in America. One day she brought in a record player and told us a story of the first time she saw Nina Simone in concert.  The energy in the room changed immediately.  Dr. Barkley Brown’s face lit up as she shared about how she braved a winter storm just to watch Nina in concert.  Despite the bad weather, Miss Simone refused to cancel the concert and gave her small, intimate audience a show for thousands. The song she played in the background as she spoke with us?  Mississippi God*amn.  From then on, I was hooked.  I ran to the CD store (yes a CD store) and bought the only CD I could afford.  I worked in a library at the time and convinced them to buy more of her CDs so I could listen to more.

I gulped her music like dry ground drinks rain.  Four Women. Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair. I put a Spell on You. Plain Gold Ring. Her voice is hypnotic, relatable, and painfully beautiful. She sings like she is exhausted but simply cannot help herself because she has to sing. I needed to hear her at the time because The University of Michigan was under scrutiny for its affirmative action policies. When I would tell white people where I went to school many would say, “Oh of course! You’re Hispanic!” One time, during a college visit, I was on a panel and a father stood up in the background and said, “How does it feel knowing that you took my daughter’s spot?” He was white.

Now, I am not someone who knows exactly what to say in the moment. I’m that person who thinks of something cool to say fifteen minutes later. That day, however, the right thing came out of my mouth.  The room was super quiet and I said, “Sir, I’m sorry your daughter didn’t get into Michigan. I can assure you, however, that I deserve to be here.” I began to spout off my qualifications and he seemed to relax a little.  I said, “I hope that makes you feel a little better…but I have to ask you a question.  Who told you that was her spot? Who said it was yours?”  I doubt I made him get pensive about privilege, but I made my point.

Later, I relayed the story to Dr. Barkley Brown and shared about how insecure I felt despite my momentary surge of confidence. I likely did get “points” when I applied. Did that mean I needed them in order to get in? She gave me the best advice ever! She said, “Marisela, you need to stop walking around here like Michigan did you a favor by accepting you.  You did Michigan a favor! Where else were you accepted?” I told her. “See! You could have gone anywhere! You chose Michigan and Michigan is better for it.  Michigan needs students like you with experiences like yours. You make this campus better. You are opening the door for your sisters.” From that day on, I walked around campus like I owned the joint. Young, Gifted, and Black played in my head that day…with a slight change in the lyric perhaps.

When you’re feeling real low,
There’s a great truth you should know, 
To be Young, Gifted, and Black [Brown]
Your soul’s intact! 

Nina Simone’s music was an essential part of the soundtrack of my life as a Brown woman moving through a predominately white world. So when I first heard about Zoe Saldana being cast as Nina, I was only a bit confused.  Perhaps she was a fan too? But I couldn’t help but think, “She doesn’t quite look like her…I didn’t know could sing!…Why her? Why not an African American actress like [fill in the blank…]?”

I really dig Zoe Saldana.  She’s an amazing actress. I loved her in Avatar, Guardians, and my personal favorite, Columbiana. [I love it at the end when she says, “Eat!” and the dogs devour the bad guy. What can I say? I have a sick sense of humor].  Then I saw the leaked photos and my heart stopped. I thought, “Ay mija…no..por favor…no! Don’t let them do that to you!” I kept clicking on photos hoping that at least one wouldn’t look so terrible. That maybe…just maybe she did look like Nina and it wouldn’t be so bad. But I have yet to find one. Frankly even if I did…I know I wouldn’t like it.

There is a part of me that desperately wanted to support my fellow Latina. But the part of me that knows and understand the history of race in America and, specifically, the practice of blackface, simply cannot.  Yes, she is Afro-Latinx. Yes…she is incredibly talented.  But as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (EBS) often urges: we in Latinx communities have to come to terms with our own troubled notions of race.  As Latinos, we don’t call it racism though. We give it cute, racism-lite terms like colorism.  It’s colorism…not racism.  No, mi familia, it’s straight up racism.

Latinos and race is incredibly complicated.  We, as a collective, occupy a middling position within the spectrum of race (O’Brien 2008; Roth 2012).  Like beads on an abacus, we can slide back and forth within the Black/White binary depending on our shade, hair, speech, etc…Furthermore, we have our own history of blackface and pushing out Zoe Saldana’s lips, changing her teeth, darkening her already black skin, and giving her a wig is a very insidious form of blackface. I feel like she was used because she was, as a NYC Casting Director in Mears 2010 on race and the fashion industry said, “We want black but not too black.”

I was never more convinced about my feelings as when I saw a meme of Uzo Aduba and Nina Simone side-by-side. I cannot find the original Facebook post, but here is an excellent comparison. Also, there are numerous compelling articles that discuss the bevy of other Black actresses who could have played Nina Simone. I will not revisit those excellent options either.

What I will say, however, is that as a Chicana I have come to recognize when and how White Hollywood pits Black and Brown against one another. This is one of those instances.  I value Zoe Saldana and love it when a Latina is on the big screen. But it cannot be at the expense of my Black brothers and sisters. Nina Simone provided a movement with music. Her songs about race and inequality are about blackness in America. Yet…it is also a gift to those of us who also feel marginalized, excluded, forgotten, and ignored. We need to cherish her gift not cheaply imitate it.  She and her legacy  deserve better.

So, as much as I love supporting Zoe, I will not watch the biopic. Instead, I watched What Happened Miss Simone? on Netflix and fell even more in love with the troubled artist. To find out that she struggled with mental illness was so incredibly liberating. I finally understand why Little Girl Blue still makes me cry to this day.

Mil gracias for reading,

Marisela Martinez-Cola

 

My First Post…

Greetings my peeps…

Venturing into this cyber-world is scary…yet strangely liberating. I am choosing to share my innermost thoughts, joys, struggles, and ideas on what it means to inhabit this being called Marisela. I am a mother. I am a partner in life. I am a scholar.  I am one of a handful. I am often “the only” but never quite feel like “the one.” I am a MiChicana who is trying to get her PhD in Sociology at Emory University.

So…what will I share?

My PhD Journey

I am the first in my family to go to college which means I understand both the pride and burn of being a trailblazer.  While my family would encourage me to sigue adelante*, they could never truly understand how lonely, frustrating, but rewarding it feels to blaze that trail. On one hand, I love being a role model to my students and sharing what I have learned on this journey to a PhD. On the other, it is very frustrating being asked if I am my son’s nanny.  (I will write more about this later.)

Still, I love my research. I love talking about race and difference. I love seeing connections. I encourage you to visit My Research page and view the video relating to my teaching philosophy to get an idea of how this weird brain of mine thinks.

My Weight Loss Journey

I am also an individual who has struggled with my weight my entire life.  My earliest memory is at the age of five when my pediatrician poked my pudgy little belly and declared that I was, “Too fat!” From then on, my mother (whom I love very much) would call me Fatso-rella, Shamu, Gorda, etc…all to shame me into losing weight. As a result, I can’t remember a time in my life when I was not struggling. I even “won” the battle at least three times by losing over 100 pounds each time but it always managed to come back.  My fourth and last time, however, came as a result of the life-saving gastric sleeve surgery. I will share about this journey and call it “musings of the formerly fluffy” in homage to Garfield the Cat.

My Personal Journey

Finally, and this is the most challenging, I will share about the things “we” are not supposed to talk about in mixed company.  Still…the silence is killing me.  I am a woman who is living with, surviving, fighting clinical Depression.  I call it “the cloud” and it has been kicking my boo-tay as my doctor and I are trying to find the right combination of treatment.  I am in therapy. I meditate. I pray. I exercise. I am even looking into clinical trials. It’s challenging. It’s embarrassing but it is my reality.

I was always told that therapy and depression was something weak, white women experienced. As a woman of color, I’m not supposed to have time for “that mess.” I’m too busy being too strong for too many.  Well, folks, depression is real…even when you “have it all.” I have a beautiful marriage, an incredible child, and I am finally pursuing my dream of getting a PhD. I have every reason in the world to be happy…and I am. But…that…stinkin’…cloud.  I hope sharing about this experience can help someone else stop feeling guilty for not being able to “pray” it away and maybe get some help.

I don’t know what else I will share. This journey is as new to me as it is to you. I sincerely thank you for taking time from your schedule to read my blog.

 

*Sigue adelante=a phrase of encouragement meaning keep moving or move ahead.