Category Archives: wisdom
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!
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…
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.
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”.
A quote from Benito Juárez:
“Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.”- Benito Juárez
(Translation: “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”)
…Arizona, I’m looking in your general direction.
Last Sunday my youngest son, my baby, was baptized. The only thing is, “my baby” is 8 years old, far past infancy when most Catholic children are baptized. Our oldest son was baptized on a trip to El Salvador when he was a year old at my Suegra’s insistence, but we never got around to it for our second son.
I would say that we’re bad Catholics, but I’m not even Catholic so I am putting all the culpa on my husband. I was raised Protestant and never officially converted, so an 8 year old getting baptized is completely normal to me, since we do it when the child willing expresses a desire to be baptized.
Anyway, after the Padre made a joke about our son being old enough to get married, he consented to baptizing him. We were surprised that the Padre barely hesitated, not because of the child’s age, but because I’m not Catholic and my husband and I are not married in the Catholic church. (I think that Suegra lied to the church in El Salvador about all of this when our oldest son was baptized.)
So, our son, who requested to be baptized, was very excited. In the days leading up to the baptism, we explained a lot of things to him about what the ceremony meant and what would happen. We explained the part about padrinos a few times, but I could see that he wasn’t quite understanding me, so I told him in English.
“Padrinos means ‘Godparents’ in Spanish.”
“Padrinos are Godparents?”
“I’m going to have a Godmother?!”
“Yes, and a Godfather, too.”
His little eyes sparkled and that’s when I realized that the only point of reference he has for what a “Godmother” is, would be from the story of Cinderella.
“Honey, you know that real Godmothers aren’t magical, right? It’s not like a fairy Godmother…”
“…Um… I know that…” he said, (but rather unconvincingly.)
After that conversation, and several others, purchasing a candle, and other such preparations, we were ready.
The day of the ceremony we sat down in the first row, the seats reserved for those participating in the service, and listened to the Padre’s homily about “Amor”. He said it’s the most important thing on this Earth, to show love. The Padre gave several examples but at one point he said, “This past week I had to call the church office to discuss the importance of love. There are so many rules and regulations for things like baptisms. I told them, ‘Would you rather show the people God’s love, or bureaucracy?’”
Obviously there must have been some internal debate at our church as to whether we should be allowed to baptize our son. I’m glad that the Padre chose to show love rather than to block us out with red tape as others were apparently attempting to do.
I’m not a strongly religious person. I’ve struggled with my faith since I was a little child, but I do believe Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me.” I don’t understand why anyone would want to prevent parents from bringing their child to God.
I can’t help that I was raised Protestant, and as for the small civil ceremony where my husband and I married – If one believes that God is everywhere, then is He not just as present in that court room as He is in the church?
As for my own faith in God, I have no way of controlling the doubts that cloud my heart, but at least I’m honest about them instead of pretending to be something I’m not. The important thing here is that my husband and I are willing to raise him in the church, regardless of our own personal spiritual struggles.
At the end of the day, our son was baptized and now he’s talking about wanting to study for First Communion. This day, amor was declared the winner. I only wish that were always the case.
As you know, my mother-in-law and I don’t have the best relationship. The biggest bone of contention has been the living arrangements. Growing up, I imagined myself with a husband and two kids, maybe a dog, but in my perfect little Anglo world, I never considered that I’d have a mother-in-law living with me, too. In-laws and grandparents are supposed to live in their own house, usually a few states away – not down the hallway. Random uncles and cousins also are not supposed to “visit” for weeks or months at a time. When relatives visit, it’s supposed to be for a few days and they’re supposed to use a hotel – That is what my culture told me, anyway.
Well, in Latino culture, which I married into, “family” is not limited to Mom, Dad, Son and Daughter. Besides Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, (not to mention half-siblings in some cases), there’s Grandmother, Grandfather, uncles and aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins and more cousins, not to mention everyone’s in-laws. If that isn’t enough family for you, there are Godparents, and other non-blood related people who get the honorary privilege of being called “familia.”
I’ve become convinced that if Anglos have a “family tree” – Latinos have a “family forest.”
And so for years I miserably asked myself the question, “Why does my mother-in-law want to live with us?” – but I should have been asking “Why would she NOT want to live with us?” Just as much as my culture taught me that this is a strange, uncomfortable living arrangement, hers taught her that this is completely normal and so my resistance to it was incomprehensible, and even deeply hurtful.
This does not excuse any of my mother-in-laws many (many!) faults, but I feel almost like a Zen monk reaching enlightenment for all of this to make sense after so many years – and not just make sense, but to be okay about it.
In my heart of hearts, sometimes I wish I had been able to live my married life in a normal Anglo household, but I would have missed out on so much, and so would my children. My Spanish would not be near as good as it is if I didn’t have to communicate with my non-English speaking mother-in-law on a daily basis. I never would have learned how to pat a tortilla back-and-forth between my palms. I never would have heard the various childhood stories about my husband that she tells every now and then. I never would have gotten a glimpse into the psychology of what made my husband who he is due to her mothering, (the good and the bad.)
My children would never have heard silly folk songs like “Los Pollitos Dicen” – they would have only known of the Tooth Fairy and not of the Latin American equivalent, “Ratóncito Pérez”, (though my husband insists when he was a child, they were too poor to pay him for his teeth so he didn’t know of Ratóncito Pérez either.) My children never would have tasted the mangoes that their grandmother buys, which they love and I hate.
Now looking back, I realize that though my mother-in-law has caused her fair share of discord and misery at times, she also enriched our lives. I’m sure there will be days when it will be hard to remember that, days when I find cilantro leaves littering the kitchen floor that I just swept and mopped, days when I’m trying to write and she has a telenovela on in the living room at maximum volume, but in the end, I guess familia is what you make of it.
I found this article and accompanying video incredibly moving. Better words could not have been chosen.
Chang-Rae Lee, writer and author of The Native Son, shares his thoughts on the Census:
(CNN) – We know the point of the 2010 Census is to count us, one by one, to tally every last resident, but the massive project of course has more prying, if limited, interests.
If the aqua- and black-tinted census form were a person, he would be like a slightly nosy seat mate on a plane, fitted out with an unfortunate ’80s flair, someone oddly arbitrary in his inquiries while being intimately probing.
Beyond the primary accounting, we’re asked additional questions about the people we live with and our relationship to them; whether we hold a mortgage or rent; how old we are; our gender; whether we inhabit a second residence or even, alas, a prison; and then, inevitably, how we categorize ourselves racially.
The boxes I can check to mark myself have certainly multiplied over the decades, allowing not just a single Asian category but broken out most progressively, it would seem, to other boxes for Vietnamese, Laotian, even Guamanian or Chamorran — and then the one for me, Korean.
The automatic response is to check this box, for that’s what I am, at least in my bloodlines: My parents are from Korea, which was where I was born. My family immigrated when I was 3, and our predecessors inhabited the Korean Peninsula for as long as can be recalled.
But as I consider the box, I have to pause. Perhaps it’s because I’m a novelist, someone who spends his days telling stories in part by stripping away the surface realities, unraveling presumed identities, in the hopes of characterizing what it is and means to be alive.
And thus my hesitance to mark the box. For despite a thorough pride in my Korean heritage and my wish to be no other, the complexities of what might seem a circumscribed identity (surely not a tenth as vast as “white” or “black”) still feel too numerous to be so neatly contained.
For my Korean-ness, especially in the context of America, is like no one else’s: It is not at all like my first cousin’s, who immigrated in his 20s and had to learn the language as an adult; not like my friend’s, who was born in Los Angeles and grew up in a bustling enclave of Korean businesses and churches; not like the Korean adoptee’s, who was raised in rural Oregon or Minnesota, being maybe the only Asian person in the county.
Our shared heritage shows in our faces, but given the differing nature of our experiences and the character of our respective communities, each of us has profoundly varying conceptions of our sense of belonging, cultural ties, even future possibility — in short, of who we are.
If I had made up the census form, the Korean box would necessarily have dozens, maybe hundreds or even thousands of sub-boxes nested inside, boxes for whether we dream in the native language, for how often we Skype with folks in Seoul, whether we wear shoes or go barefoot in the house, if we prefer our kimchee fresher or riper or perhaps not at all.
Each form would have to be an epic novel of boxes, its combinations approaching the infinite, a document so vast and particular and dense that the boxes themselves would at some point begin to blur, perhaps disappear, the marks coalescing into something so singular that they would eventually take on a life itself, which is always shifting, dynamic, at last uncountable.