A Message of Love and Pain, with Frida Kahlo

Sunday Spotlight

I used to work at Borders Books & Music in San Francisco, attached to a mall and close to a university. Having just come back from a trip to the Philippines where I tried to hold and maybe rekindle the type of young love you read about, I was more than happy to be buried and surrounded by books.

It was here where I first discovered Frida Kahlo. I don’t remember the first time I started learning about her, but I do remember buying a book of all her paintings. I didn’t know much about Frida, but her work resonated with me immediately even before I knew her story or the stories behind her paintings.

A decade later, I was standing in front of La Casa Azul in the beautiful neighborhood of Coyoacán, about half an hour away from Mexico City. I’ve wanted to visit Frida Kahlo’s home-turned-museum for a long time and standing there, in the middle of the lush foliage and blue walls of the compound I felt like I’ve truly achieved something.

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La Casa Azul, June 2017

Stepping into La Casa Azul felt a lot like stepping into a dream, into the world of Frida. It took me a while to believe that I was really there and I wanted to see everything and do nothing at the same time, for the sheer joy of being in the space. It felt sacred.

There were people in the courtyard, sitting on benches and talking, people milling about, people taking photos. There was also an area off to the side where there was a film showing, as more folks trickled in and out of the space. We headed straight to the museum which led to what became Frida and Diego’s home for awhile.

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These were some of the first few paintings I saw: an unfinished self-portrait sketch made in Detroit, Frida and the Cesarean (also unfinished) and a painting called “Marxism will bring health to the sick” which features Frida wearing a leather corset and a Tehuana skirt.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of Frida’s paintings in person, so seeing these was an ultimate gift. Most of her paintings are also all over the world — in prestigious institutions like the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, in universities, in private collections and with close friends of hers and Diego’s like Dolores Olmedo. I was planning to visit Olmedo’s museum to check out more of Frida’s work but at the time, the exhibit was under construction.

Throughout her paintings — unfinished or completed — Frida’s lust for life was evident. In spite of her illnesses, the numerous miscarriages she had and the heartaches she’s  had to endure from Diego, she radiated what she painted in the simplest, but also grandest terms: Viva la ida.  Long live life.

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After her (and Diego’s) paintings were also photographs of Frida herself, with eyes that pierced and a stance so bold, so fearless. I stared at one of her photos for some time, one from Lucienne Bloch’s series. In the photo, Frida is looking straight into the camera, her necklace dangling from between her lips. It was evocative, but firm. A quiet, unyielding strength. There’s also photo of her plaiting her hair, naked from the waist up. In another one, she’s on a boat leaning down against the rail, her fingers playing with the water.

Tender, bold and playful at the same time. I thought to myself: How many of us are actually living our lives? How many of us are actually brave enough to stray away from our routines and focus instead on creating our own maps, no matter how arduous?

Eventually, the photos gave way to Frida’s study where her books were (still in their glass shelves), her paint, tools and figurines preserved as if Frida herself would come any minute to paint.

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There were still many people outside in the courtyard even though it was already half past five (the museum closes at 5pm). There were even more people inside the museum still, all of us eager to get a glimpse of the rest of Frida’s house. The line moved an inch and in a few minutes, I was standing in front of her day bed, which was in direct view of the courtyard. I imagined Frida, in her later years, still filled with love, hope and longing, looking out into the sun and the sky.

While I started taking photos of every detail, I realized that she had also put up a series of photos of the most important political theorists of our time: Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong.

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Frida’s political involvement started early as I recalled reading about The Cachucas, children of the revolution that Frida was a part of along with seven boys and one other girl. Their ideological cocktail was composed of Socialism, Romanticism and nationalism although their passion for poetry and literature overshadowed their politics.

In her diary, she wrote an entry dated 4 November 1952:

Today more than ever I feel a sense of companionship. For 20 years, I have been a Communist. I know. I have read conscientiously [crossed out] the principal origins mixed up with ancient roots.

I have read the History of my country and of almost all other nations. I already know their class struggles and their economic struggles. I have a clear understanding of the materialist dialectic of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tse-tsung. I love them because they are the pillars of the new Communist world.

As I walked out of the museum, down the stairs which led to an outdoor hallway of her and Diego’s collection of native artifacts, I was overcome with a thousand emotions. I was sad and excited at the same time. I felt small and grand.

Frida was as big as life itself, and I had mine to live fully.

“Pies para qué los quiero,
si tengo alas pa volar?”

(“Who needs feet
when I’ve got wings to fly?”)

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La Casa Azul – Museo Frida Kahlohttp://www.museofridakahlo.org.mx
Calle Londres # 247, Colonia Del Carmen, Coyoacán Delegation, CP 04100, Mexico City

#GetLit: Internal Excavations & Frida Kahlo

#GetLit

Yesterday — July 6 — was Frida Kahlo’s 110th birth anniversary and I ended the day by leafing through the watercolored-pages of The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait (Amazon| Indiebound). There were tomes in Spanish, sketches, self-portraits, the word “Diego” written on many, many pages and more of her writing.

I’m familiar with most of Frida’s paintings and seeing the sketches in her diary transported me back to Casa Azul, which I went to the minute we landed in Mexico City. So raw, so beautiful. Thank you for your life, love and courage, Frida.

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Today’s email from Jack Kornfield over at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center was so necessary.

“May I love myself just as I am.
May I sense my worthiness and well-being.
May I trust this world.
May I hold myself in compassion.
May I meet the suffering and ignorance of others with compassion.”

If you are a person who has regular, repeated destructive thoughts, thoughts of self-judgment, criticism, shame, or unworthiness, work with this training for a week or, even better, for a month.

First, become more carefully aware of the content and rhythm of the voices inside. What are their regular, unhealthy remarks and devastating comments? What do they sound like? What do they feel like? Begin to study how much pain they cause you. Feel how they take you over and how they hurt. When do they come out most strongly, day or night? What situations provoke them? Social occasions, family time, partners, competitive situations, work or leisure? Do they criticize your body, your mind, your actions, your whole being?

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I’m loving this piece from NPR: Summer Reading for your Woke Kids. 

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Start ’em young, start ’em early.

“Give kids credit,” says Stan Yogi, one of the authors on our list. “They have an innate sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. Being able to draw on that innate sense of justice through relatable stories is so important.”

July’s Reading List

Sunday Spotlight

I can’t believe it’s the second half of the year already. Where did the first half go?! I hope you’ve been enjoying the long weekend with family and friends, or if you’ve been doing it the way I have — with your current reads.

My excitement for this month’s reading list cannot be contained, so much so that I’m on the second book already because I was that eager to get to actually reading. I’m a little behind too on my goal for this year (54 books) so I figured I could use the downtime to catch up.

The past two weeks have been really heavy on the political side, as I finished reading Lualhati Bautista’s Desaparesidos (book review out this week) and Oscar Lopez Rivera’s Between Torture and Resistance. I’m still thinking about those narratives, of the lives of people like those in Bautista’s novel and OLR’s sacrifice for a cause bigger than himself. It’s easy to get lost in our routines, to see each day and each week like the others past, and then find yourself one day asking where time has gone (I mean, I just started this post with that sentiment).

Between juggling a full-time job, organizing with a grassroots women’s group in the Bay Area and reading and blogging for Libromance, some days feel like a blur.

I need constant reminders to slow down, to make my days wider and freer, to be more spontaneous. I have yet to find that balance, but these past few days have been healing. Between all the things I do, keeping up with my books & looks on the daily and carving out moments for loved ones, I have to remind myself to breathe. To take it all in, with grace and even more joy. That in spite of what’s happening around me, in spite of internal turmoils I may face, there’s alwasy a spark of joy that can be ignited.


This month’s first book is Frida Kahlo: I Paint My Reality which I finished in a day (yesterday). I still have a hangover from my trip to Mexico City, specially Coyoacan, where Frida grew up and spent most of her time. I have yet to write about my trip for the blog but it’s definitely in the works!

Right after, I started Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The only reason why I didn’t start reading Roy’s latest novel is that it still hasn’t arrived and the moment it did, I was ready. After being blown away by The God of Small Things, I tried to greet Roy’s other books with the same vigor. But it wasn’t the same. As I write this, I’ve read about 50 pages of the new novel and so far, it has been worth the wait.

Other titles that I’ll be delving into this month include Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire. I’m a fan of the Berkeley native, ever since he came out with books like Food Rules and In Defense of Food. He made me realize how complicated our food has become, and that a return to simplicity (to what our grandmothers actually recognize as food) is warranted.

A friend recommended Magda Szabo’s The Door awhile ago so I thought it’s high time I read it. I really don’t know much about the book but hey, it has a 4.06 rating on Goodreads.

And last but definitely not the least is F. Sionil Jose’s Gagamba. The title is the Filipino word for spider, and it’s a little embarrassing that I still haven’t read any of his work. This will be my first book from the author, a title I picked up when I was in the Philippines in March.

What are you reading this month? Let me know by leaving a comment below. As always, happy reading!