Category Archives: wisdom

Race & Reality

I just finished reading Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity by Guy P. Harrison.

This was definitely not light, relaxing reading but I’m happy that I pushed through and read it.

Book Description:

“Drawing on a wide variety of evidence – the hard data from fossils and DNA, interviews with the victims of racism, and personal experiences – Harrison dismantles the ‘race’ concept, bolt by bolt. Exposing race as a social illusion and political tool – rather than a biological reality – Harrison forces the reader to consider how they think about ‘other folk.’ Anthropologists have no use for the race concept, and neither should educated citizens.” -Cameron M. Smith, PhD, Department of Anthropology, Portland State University

Even if you already consider yourself educated and enlightened, reading this book will open your eyes in new ways. You won’t be able to look at people, race or society the same ever again. (Remember, we’re talking about race here – not culture. Very different. The craziness I observe in my own household on a daily basis is proof enough to me that cultural differences exist!)

The author argues that we all came out of Africa and we are one human race – that any categories based on hair type, skin color, facial features, etc – are simply man-made… By the time I finished reading this book I felt simultaneously freed…and trapped. I see myself as raceless, but this just isn’t practical in the society we live in.

Imagine renewing my driver’s license at the DMV. I fill out the form, I come to the race boxes – decide to leave them blank because they seem silly and irrelevant. I turn in my form.

“Ma’am, you didn’t check a box for race.”
“I know. I don’t want to. I don’t believe in races.”
“Yes ma’am, that’s real cute, but you have to choose one. I can’t process an incomplete form…”
I sigh, take my pen in hand, and check off a race.
“Hmm… I suppose this one is most accurate…”
I hand the form back to the DMV clerk who looks it over. Her satisfied smile at my compliance soon turns to a frown.
“African-American?!”

So, I don’t think race will be disappearing any time soon – and maybe it would be irresponsible of me to pretend our world doesn’t see these man-made boxes, regardless of what I personally feel. I have two sons who are struggling with their identity, and answering their questions with a cheerful, “Race doesn’t exist”, is not going to help them sort things out.

Just yesterday a classmate approached my older son and said, “Are you Mexican?” … My son, (having picked up on his father’s annoyance at constantly being incorrectly labeled Mexican instead of Latino or Salvadoran), replied with a simple, curt, “No.”

I told him that he should have used the opportunity to educate his classmate, but I wonder if that was fair of me. As a “white” girl amongst other “white” kids, I never had to explain myself. It must get annoying having to patiently tell people “what you are”. It must make one feel very “other”… and that’s never a good feeling, no matter how old you are – but especially in middle school.

The book, Race and Reality, re-printed a “Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage” which I think is empowering, not just for people who are traditionally considered “multi-racial” by today’s society – but for all of us. In the end, there is no pure race. We are all mixed and we are all human.

___

Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage:

I HAVE THE RIGHT…
Not to justify my existence in this world.
Not to keep the races separate within me.
Not to justify my ethnic legitimacy.
Not to be responsible for people’s discomfort with my physical or ethnic ambiguity.

I HAVE THE RIGHT…
To identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify.
To identify myself differently than how my parents identify me.
To identify myself differently than my brothers and sisters.
To identify myself differently in different situations.

I HAVE THE RIGHT…
To create a vocabulary to communicate about being multiracial or multi-ethnic.
To change my identity over my lifetime -and more than once.
To have loyalties and identification with more than one group of people.
To freely choose whom I befriend and love.

© Maria P. P. Root, PhD

Nachos & Border Amigos

American flags are out in full force this weekend – And thanks to Hurricane Earl passing off the coast, the red, white and blue, snapped proudly in the wind.

While I was taking photos, I noticed the juxtaposition of this flag and a sign that made me smile.

Okay, maybe I’m easily amused, but the way “NACHOS” is written up there, as if there is nothing more American than that, it made me happy.

Actually, if you’re interested to know, nachos have a good story behind them.

From Wikipedia: Nachos originated in the city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, just over the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, at a restaurant called the Victory Club, owned by Rodolfo De Los Santos. One day in 1943, the wives of ten to twelve U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Duncan in nearby Eagle Pass were in Piedras Negras on a shopping trip, and arrived at the restaurant after it had closed for the day. The maître d’, Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, invented a new snack for them with what little he had available in the kitchen: tortillas and cheese. Anaya cut the tortillas into triangles, added longhorn cheddar cheese, quickly heated them, and added sliced jalapeño peppers. He served the dish, calling it Nacho’s especiales – meaning something like “Nacho’s special dish” in Spanish.

Anaya went on to work at the Moderno Restaurant in Piedras Negras, which still uses the original recipe. He also opened his own restaurant, “Nacho’s Restaurant”, in Piedras Negras. Anaya’s original recipe was printed in the 1954 St. Anne’s Cookbook.

The popularity of the dish swiftly spread throughout Texas. The first known appearance of the word “nachos” in English dates to 1949, from the book A Taste of Texas. Waitress Carmen Rocha is credited with introducing the dish to Los Angeles at El Cholo Mexican restaurant in 1959.

So there you have it. Nachos may not have been invented without some hungry gringas and an ingenious Mexican. You see, gente? This is what can happen when we all try to get along.

Escritura y Diferencias

September is a special month to me. It’s the month I started this blog last year, and though my husband and I met each other at the end of August all those years ago, September is when we became novios. And so today has me thinking about the early days, when we were new to each other, and I was still discovering all the little things about him that endeared him to me…

I first noticed my husband’s escritura, (handwriting) within minutes of meeting him. He gave me his name and phone number, and instead of the chicken-scratch I was used to seeing from American boys, I held in my hands something not only completely readable, but strangely intriguing.

Yes, after all these years, I still have it.

As novios, I looked forward to his love letters, not just for the words themselves, but the way in which they had been written – the form of each individual letter. Everything about him reminded me of how different we were, from our inability to communicate at times, (I read his love letters with an English-Spanish dictionary by my side), to something as simple as the way we write the letter “e”.

They say “love is blind”, and while I agree with the sentiment, it isn’t literally true. We saw our differences, and were fascinated by them.

Many handwriting experts claim you can’t tell a person’s ethnicity or nationality by their handwriting, but again, I say this isn’t true. (Link is to a PDF titled: “Spanish Handwriting And Spelling” – a document meant for non-native Spanish speakers deciphering Spanish documents to extract information. The fact that such a document exists proves that there are differences!)

Maybe it isn’t fool proof, but I’m able to pick out the handwriting of native born Salvadorans from that of U.S. born Americans. While I haven’t seen handwriting samples from all Latin American countries, everybody in my husband’s family – his mother, his sister, his brother, his cousins and uncles – even completely unrelated Salvadorans I’ve met, all have similarities in their handwriting. I can’t tell you if it’s a uniquely Salvadoran handwriting or a Spanish-speaking/Latin American way of writing, but it is different – and noticing a difference is not a bad thing.

In this politically correct world we’re admonished to look for the similarities, but I say go ahead and look for the differences, and celebrate them, because they’re beautiful.

Ask Señora López: How do Latinas Keep Their Man?

George over at SofritoForYourSoul.com has posted the second question in my “Ask Señora López” column. The question this time: How do Latinas keep their man? … Come find out and add your 2 cents in the comments!

Ask Señora López: How do Latinas Keep Their Man?

Raising Bilingual Niños: Tip #2

Well, the niños are back to school which means summer, and “Spanish Summer“, is over. Does that mean I’m going to go back to speaking English with them? N’hombre! … If anything, now I need to make extra sure that I’m speaking Spanish with them here at home as most of their day will be in English with their friends and teachers. This is no longer a simple experiment or “jump start” for my children. We will now speak Spanish at home as much as possible, which is what we should have been doing from the start.

We all learned so much this summer, not just the niños, but me – and even my husband who is the only native speaker, (besides Suegra!) … One lazy Saturday morning I rolled over in bed and my husband kissed me good morning. Still half asleep I mumbled, “Now I’m hungry. I was dreaming about semita de higo.”

My husband said, “Higo?” and laughed at me, thinking I had made up a word. Later in the day I looked it up on the internet and showed him that it meant “fig” in English, but not knowing what a “fig” is either, he remained skeptical until we asked Suegra. Her very Salvadoran response to her son, “Higo! No sabes qué es higo, vos?! Puchica, ‘stas perdido, Tata.”

So, we continue to speak Spanish, and when I forget, slipping back into the comfort of English like a pair of sweat pants I should have thrown out a long time ago, even the children remind me in their own way. Just this morning my 8 year old got ready for school and then plopped down beside me in bed.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.
“We could read ‘Rats of NIMH’?” I said, referring to a chapter book we’ve been reading each night before bed.
“Nah,” he responded, “That’s only for noche.”

Noche. It came out of his mouth so naturally, without even thinking, his accent changing just for that one word. My kids are now responding to me in Spanglish, and sometimes even in perfect Spanish, when I’ve mistakenly spoken English to them. The tables have turned! Earlier this year it was me who would stubbornly respond in Spanish to their English, all the while, wondering if I was wasting my time.

And so the lesson (and tip #2) – Keep at it. Stay strong. Be patient. Speak to your children in Spanish as much as possible. Even if it seems like they’re ignoring you, annoyed with you, or not catching on, trust that the gears are turning and words are being filed away. Don’t forget to keep it fun and find Spanish in unexpected places. Take a “field trip” to the Latino Market, or Lowe’s Home Improvement center. That seems like a random thing to say, but check out the video and you’ll see what I mean.

And just in case anyone is wondering, Lowe’s didn’t pay me to make this video in any way. (I think they were actually kind of annoyed with us running around their store.) … Of course, if they’d like to re-model my house to say ‘thanks’, they should feel free to E-mail me.

The Campesino & the Gringo

This is a chiste I heard in Spanish, but with the chiste, I think is a valuable lesson. Here’s my approximate translation to Spanglish.

A group of gringos went on vacation to Mexico. Part of the package included a tour of a local farm. While on the tour, one of the gringos noticed a campesino. The campesino wiped the sweat from his forehead, went to the shade of a big tree, and sat down to rest. The gringo approached him saying:

Hola amigo, ¿Cómo estas?

Muy bien jefe, aquí descansando.

Tell me, why don’t you work more on your land?

¿Y para qué?

To have bigger crops and sell more.

¿Y para qué?

So you can make more money…and buy livestock!

¿Y para qué?

The livestock will reproduce, and you could sell them, and earn more money!

¿Y para qué?

So you could have a pretty house, live in peace and rest.

¿Y qué estoy haciendo?

Ask Señora López: Parental Involvement

The first question has been answered. (How to encourage parental involvement at school when there are linguistic and cultural barriers.) Come visit my new column “Ask Señora López”, over at Sofrito For Your Soul – (Thanks, George!)

And as always, if you have a question, ask me! Your question can be serious or silly, about Latinos or gringos, in English or español, and you can remain anonymous. Te espero!

So says the fortune cookie

I <3 Miami

Maybe I’m romanticizing it since I was only there for a couple days, but I really fell in love with Miami. I don’t know if it’s the kind of place I could live in year round. I’m an East Coast girl at heart. I need my change of seasons, my autumn leaves. I need the smell of fresh cut grass in the summer time… but going tropical felt good at least for a little while.

I loved the art deco architecture, the rustle of palm trees, the turquoise blue of the ocean, hearing Spanish everywhere we went, the adorable casitas, the couples dancing to the salsa version of Coldplay’s song, “Clocks“, the taxi drivers hanging out their windows and calling out piropos to pretty girls, mojitos, learning how to run in tacones, guava cupcakes, and most of all, the diverse group of amazing women who I now call mis amigas.

Going to Miami was life changing in ways I never expected, and probably in ways I have yet to see.

Those who were there with me may know that I argued on and off with my husband via text message almost the entire two days. This made me feel vergüenza, because I know what it looks like from the outside looking in. Most people like to keep up the appearance that their marriage is perfect, but sometimes there is no hiding the truth.

I felt lucky that despite my shyness, I bonded so quickly to all of the girls and that I was able to open up to them. Many of them gave me good advice, some simply a listening ear and a knowing smile. Marriage isn’t easy and mine is no exception. In fact, bi-cultural marriages tend to be even more difficult.

In the end, my husband and I came to a major turning point as individuals and as a couple. My husband was forced to realize that his celos is a result of his own insecurity and I was able to fly free long enough to realize that living like a pajarito in a cage of gold, is not how I want to live. Changing won’t be easy, but we had a very difficult heart-to-heart and our marriage has weathered another storm.


Lights go out and I can’t be saved
Tides that I tried to swim against
You’ve put me down upon my knees
Oh I beg, I beg and plead, singing…

Confusion never stops,
Closing walls and ticking clocks,
Gonna come back and take you home,
I could not stop, that you now know, singing,
Come out upon my seas,
Curse missed opportunities…

And nothing else compares
Oh no nothing else compares
And nothing else compares

You are, Home, home,
Where I wanted to go…

-Coldplay/Clocks

Disclosure: General Mills paid for my trip to Miami for their Qué Rica Vida media event. I received no compensation, monetary or otherwise, for writing about the event. All opinions expressed are my own.

Accents and Airplanes

Yesterday my mother took me and the niños on a trip to the new Air & Space Museum. It is now one week before my much anticipated flight to Miami, so it seems fitting that I get reacquainted with airplanes before I go. (I haven’t been on one in more than 10 years.)

The architecture of the museum is very interesting. On the right is the observation tower.

When we went in, the very nice security officers informed me that they have a “no gum” policy so I had to spit out my chicle in the provided trash can in front of everybody. I had flashbacks to Spanish 101 in middle school.

To go to the observation tower you have to go DOWN a flight of stairs to the elevator, which I found strange, but it was very cool once we were up there. You could see planes coming and going from Dulles airport. Apparently the observation tower is very busy on the weekend, so I recommend going on a week day as we did. We almost had the whole thing to ourselves.

After that, we went down and looked at airplane after airplane. Honestly, I’m not that curious about the random details and history of the airplanes, but I found the way they were hung from the ceiling to be aesthetically pleasing.

Some airplanes were parked on the floor as well. The museum had a sort of modern warehouse feel which I liked. Very open floor plan. As you would suspect, most of the museum space is dedicated to airplanes, but there were helicopters, hang gliders, satellites and other such things, including this impressively big space shuttle.

After the niños tried a flight simulator, (I felt sick just watching), we stopped for lunch in the museum cafeteria. There were a few choices but we ended up getting McDonald’s. As expected, museum food prices are somewhat outrageous. The Big Mac meal was like $7. (No photo of the over-priced hamburger. I was hungry, sorry.)

The museum shop was also predictably expensive. (My oldest son began begging for the little package of $5 dehydrated astronaut ice cream. Chale! I told him to pick a 75 cent post card instead.)

On our way to the exit, my youngest son tested the unspoken “no running” policy, and lost. A security guard called after him, “No running, no running! We don’t want accidents in here!” … I chided my son and apologized to the guard before asking her where she was from because I liked her accent. This is always dangerous territory for a white person to enter, since this type of question can easily be taken the wrong way. The guard put a hand on her hip and said, “I’m from my mother, where you from?” I had to laugh because I suspected she was from New York like my father’s side of the family, and she gave a perfect response full of New York attitude. I shouldn’t have expected any less. Turns out she grew up in Spanish Harlem. When she found out I have family in Brooklyn, she became less defensive. We had a friendly chat and then parted ways. As we walked down the corridor towards the exit she hollered after us, “You got an accent, too, ya know!”

I laughed and waved, unsure of what exactly she meant in that moment. I thought about it and decided that maybe she just meant that the perception of an “accent” varies by who is doing the listening. To her, I’m the one with the “accent”.

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