These are the messages we receive in our capitalist society. It’s all GO GO GO. Do Do Do! It’s no wonder we’re all suffering from some kind of ailment, whether it’s physical illness like Crohn’s disease or a mental one like depression.

This is the trauma of The Hustle.

*

Money doesn’t grow on trees. You have to work hard to earn money. Got you gotta hustle to survive.

I first understood the concept of hustle when I was 12, when my parents bought a franchise: Dunkin’ Donuts.

From my perspective as a kid, my parents had the entrepreneurial spirit…


[content warning: child abuse, sexual violence]

When I was in sixth grade, my religion teacher, Sister Pam, a young light-skinned Black nun in our parish, talked to us about how to behave like good Catholics.

The night before, I had done something to anger my dad and got whipped by the belt. It didn’t take much to anger him as he was notorious for his short temper. To this day, I cannot remember what offense I committed, but I’ll never forget the bright red welts left on my thighs. …


You don’t know that you truly don’t belong until someone points it out to you.

A few months ago, a Filipina woman was knocked down and beaten in midtown Manhattan in broad daylight. The attacker screamed at her, “You don’t belong here.”

After it happened, I talked about this with my friend of mine who is Black. We shook our heads at the travesty of it all. The attacker was Black. Why this hate between communities of color?

Then I asked: when did you know that you were different? That you didn’t belong?

For both of us, it was around…


The Summer of 2002 was the first time I entered a space exclusively for people of color. This was the intent of the space: to bring folks of color-specifically writers of color-together WITHOUT worrying about the white gaze. I was dumbfounded. To be able to be authentically ME without measuring my words, without explaining what I was trying to do with my writing? To be SEEN? I mean REALLY seen?? And LOVED?? I was bewildered and awe-struck. I had never known the kind of beauty and love that came out of that experience. It was life-changing. When folks of color…


“You can use my foundation,” I said.

“No, Mommy. I can’t.”

“Why?”

“Because it will be too brown.”

Whoops. For a brief second, I had forgotten.

My oldest and I were out shopping for makeup at the local drugstore. She was attending her first Sweet 16 party and wanted some new lip color. She pointed out a new bug bite that appeared on her face out of nowhere. That’s when I offered foundation to even out the color of her face (who wants a small red puffy bug bite on their cheek?). Because I share all of my makeup with…


The last five years have been a kind of reckoning. A revelation into who’s got your back. And who doesn’t.

*

As kid growing up, I didn’t have many friends. I was friendly with people, but for the most part, I was quiet. I had been taught to behave this way, to tamp down my spirit despite the tugs to do “louder” things.

We’re talking now. Don’t talk. Don’t interrupt. Go in the other room. No, English only. I’m busy now. Behave. Keep quiet. Why do you have to cry? Stop whining. Why are you so bad? Behave. What kind…


I am writing the difficult thing. I might get some things wrong. I might get some people upset or mad. And it will definitely be messy. But it’s better than the alternative.

Silence is a powerful weapon.

I intend to break it. And continue to break it over and over and over. Until the truth blooms into its fullest form.

*

“Ay, stay out of the sun. Ayaw mong maging itim.”

Itim. Black.

That was a word you didn’t want to be associated with.

You don’t want to get black.

This is something I would hear often from my mom…


Tell me if you’re heard this one before:

I don’t remember exactly what she said to me. All I heard was “full-time”.

Two new non-tenure-track (NTT) positions had opened up in the department, specifically for creative writing. One of them in poetry. The deadline to submit applications was in a week.

I thought to myself, Why am I only hearing about this now? Was there an email announcement that I missed?

I reached out to a couple of colleagues: did you know about the positions? Were you planning to apply? None of them knew about these openings.

My colleague who…


Photo 1: Graduate School

Did I ever tell you about that time I went to a baby shower and they played this game: identify the person in the baby picture? No?

When I was in grad school, I went to a friend’s shower. It was a small gathering. The host had asked us to bring a baby picture of ourselves. I brought the only one I had in my possession at the time: toddler me on a tricycle. When we arrived, we were instructed to put them on a table by the door. …


“You’re so shy.”

“Oh, she’s shy.”

How many times did I hear that growing up?

It may seem like an innocuous statement, but have you ever considered that a girl who’s quiet isn’t shy but rather one who’s been muzzled, raised to believe that her voice doesn’t count?

How many times was I told to be quiet?

When I was in primary school, I always wanted to be a part of adult conversations. Being the oldest, I wasn’t really interested in talking with my brother who was just learning how to speak. I remember my dad and grandpa would sit…

Leslieann Hobayan

Poet. Activist. Teacher. Healer.

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