Fuerza Mineros

Fuerza Mineros, (the Twitter hashtag #fuerzamineros), a wish of strength to the miners, these two words I typed dozens of times yesterday as I watched the rescue unfold in Chile.

I tweeted some of the rescues as they happened, and once I started, I found that I had to stay there for the very last one.

Part of the intrigue for me was pride in watching the true international effort at play – seeing how we are capable of such greatness when we work together. This rescue in Chile could not have happened without the help of the United States, and dozens of other countries. It’s a lesson in cooperation and humbleness, in allowing others to help when you can’t do something on your own. It’s a lesson on strength in numbers – just as the Chilean miners pooled their talents to survive below ground, the world pooled their talents above ground to save them. We are all unique individuals with unique abilities, which we should use to help others.

The second reason I watched, was for the pure happiness it gave me. The rescue allowed us to forget our own problems, like any other distraction. I think for a lot of people, it was a much needed respite from the usual depressing political and economic news. Maybe watching the families reunite gave us a moment to recharge and recalibrate – to realize just what is important in this world.

When these kind of amazing stories happen, it’s inevitable that the characters in the story will be granted a sort of legendary status, becoming unforgettable to an entire generation. The Chilean miners have been described almost as saints, called heroes, been ascribed attributes such as “resilient”, but I’m going to take an unpopular stance … As horrific as their ordeal was and as intelligent and strong as they were to survive, they are not saints or heroes, and they are no more resilient than most other human beings who find themselves in a situation where they must fight for their lives.

The Chilean miners are men – and flawed men, just like the rest of us. Perhaps none has exemplified that as publicly as Yonni Barrios – the miner who had both a wife and mistress show up to the site calling his name, (and word has it, he isn’t the only one who had multiple women claim him.)

But the truth is, all of the miners have skeletons in their closets, just like the rest of us – and I’d be willing to bet that the contract they signed with each other in the mine was that they’d never tell a soul about the things they must have confessed to each other during the days when they thought they might not make it out.

And while the miners have captured the world’s attention, there are human beings who never get to tell their stories, who are never praised for their survival, who are suffering in all kinds of situations every day all over the world; from starvation, poverty, illness, separation from family or homeland, to loneliness, unjust incarceration, abuse, slavery, and mourning. It is the human condition, and those of us who are not touched by the worst of this kind of suffering are the lucky minority.

It may seem I’m being cynical – on the contrary! This should give you hope! What I’m saying is that, like the miners, though we are not saints, we all have hidden reserves of strength, we all have the ability to pull through difficult times. We all have the capacity for faith in something greater than us no matter how “religious” we consider ourselves. We all have the ability to be reborn in this world, to change our ways. Each day that you wake up and feel the sunshine upon your face, it is another chance to try again.

(Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)


“With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world…Strive to be happy.”-Desiderata/ Max Ehrmann

The Lucky Plant

So much has changed. See this plantita here? Many years ago this little plant caused an American-Salvadoran war in our household.

Suegra says this is considered a “lucky” plant back in El Salvador, but it was unlucky for me because Suegra planted it in our yard without permission. For reasons which aren’t clear to me today, I got mad – really mad. I guess it was a boundaries thing. I resented Suegra living with us to begin with, and on top of that, she often redecorated without asking me. I’d go out on an errand and come back to see something incredibly feo she bought at a yard sale, sitting as the new centerpiece on our table. I guess at some point I had enough.

The lucky plant, which at the time looked like a wilted weed in my eyes, had been planted in a prominent spot in the landscaping and it stuck out like a sore thumb. She had even stolen rocks from elsewhere in the yard and made a circle around the pathetic little plant. It looked like a juvenile goldfish burial plot.

“It needs to be moved to the backyard – somewhere I can’t see it – near the air conditioner unit would be good. Some place where it might die,” I said to my husband.

He pleaded with me not to make a big deal. It was a difficult time in our marriage. His mother living with us turned into a sick love triangle – my husband always caught between his mother and me, both of us demanding his loyalty.

In the end, my husband asked his mother to move the lucky plant. I had not fully anticipated the war that erupted. Suegra didn’t speak to me for many days. She told my husband he didn’t wear the pants – started with that familiar refrain, “There are many women in the world, pero madre sólo hay una.”

Suegra moved the plant but she continued to take care of it, watering it in the summer, moving it indoors in the winter – and over the years it survived … and somehow we have, too.

All these years later, I remember that day and wonder why I cared so much. Why I couldn’t just let it go, but it’s past now, I can’t change what happened. I can only learn a lesson from it to carry with me.

Yesterday I noticed the chill in the evening air, whispering that autumn is upon us. We’ll soon have our first frost. I reminded Suegra that it was time to bring the plant indoors. I told her she could put it on the table, as a centerpiece… a daily reminder for me that life is imperfect but given time and a little luck, we can adapt.

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.

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!