Category Archives: Anglo vs. Latino
This has always been one of my favorite paintings by one of my favorite artists. “Tamalda” by Carmen Lomas Garza depicts the Latina tradición Navideña of tamal-making as a family.
Every year as I make tamales by myself, I think wistfully what it would be like to be surrounded by generations of women, each of us with our own task, but sharing laughter and conversation, working together to make tamales and memories.
Growing up in an Anglo household means my grandmothers, my mother, aunts and sisters do not know how to make tamales. This is not a family tradition from my side of the family that I am continuing, rather it is one that I’m trying to start for my own children – although they are boys. Maybe I will teach their wives, or their daughters some day – but when they think of Navidad, I want them to close their eyes and taste tamales – I want them to have that connection to their roots.
I’ve been asked why I don’t making tamales with my Suegra, which is logical since Suegra has certainly participated in many “tamaldas” with her sisters – but she goes back to El Salvador each year for the winter, so it isn’t something I share with her and it’s not something I learned from her. Our recipes are very different; Suegra favors the green banana leaves for wrapping her mild-flavored tamales, and I prefer corn husks to wrap my spicy tamales. Like many things between us, making tamales together probably wouldn’t work out.
I’m not as saddened about making tamales by myself anymore though, because this past weekend, my mother, sisters and nephew came to my house for our annual cookie-baking. As I watched my mother alternate between rolling out the dough and moving galletas in and out of the oven, while my sisters and the boys sat around the table decorating the trays of cut out sugar cookies she provided, I remembered the Carmen Lomas Garza painting.
Maybe an annual “tamalada” is not possible, but our “galletada” is close enough.
I drew this little comic after observing many familias Latinas who love peluches (stuffed animals/plush toys), so much, that they display them proudly in the living room. Don’t pretend I’m making this up, gente. If you don’t do it, you know a Latino/a who does!
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.
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.
The other day I took the niños to the pool. Usually I get out a few minutes before them and let them play a little longer. When it’s time to go, I wave them over, since they can’t hear me over all the noise of splashing and playing.
Well, as I waved them over this time, I stared at my hand in disbelief, because completely without my permission, my hand was speaking Spanish.
You see, you don’t actually have to open your mouth to speak Spanish. Different gestures mean different things in different cultures, and while there are many accepted ways to say “come here” for gringos, my hand waved my children over in latino “sign language”.
Last night Suegra made pupusas for dinner. We all sat down at the table and began to eat. I watched my oldest son pick one up in his hands and start munching on it as if it were a cookie.
This is not how you eat a pupusa and it annoyed me greatly. I instructed him to put it down on his plate, pull it open, and eat it with curtido* properly.
Being almost 12 years old, he rolled his eyes but did as I told him, all the while mumbling to himself, “I don’t even like curtido… cabbage and vinegar…two things I hate…especially vinegar…”
I told him that if he ever wanted to go back to visit El Salvador, (he only went once as an infant), he would have to eat pupusas properly or everyone would laugh at him. He considered this for a second and then said something that cemented in reality that he is irrevocably gringo in some ways:
“Well, if we go to a restaurant in El Salvador and we order pupusas, I can always order the curtido light on the vinegar, right?”
* Curtido in El Salvador is a lightly fermented cabbage salad which is served with pupusas. Curtido is made in large batches and kept in jars. It is not something that can be “made to order” under most circumstances.
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?
Last week we discovered a nest of bunnies in our yard. They were adorable all curled up inside the hole, but I decided to leave them alone and told everyone else to as well. Of course, Suegra never listens to me, so yesterday she went out to check on them only to find that all the little bunnies had gone.
Looking into the empty hole beneath the dry grass she commented, “Ya no hay… That mother rabbit must be American. She kicked her children out of the house already.”
I have some very exciting news!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been in touch with George of Sofrito For Your Soul. I’ve been a long time fan of his website and when I saw their new “Ask a Latino” feature, I joked with George that if he ever wanted to do “Ask a Gringa”, I was his girl.
My little chiste turned to conversation of a real collaboration, and so we now have “Ask Señora López” which will appear over at Sofrito For Your Soul soon. I’m announcing it here so that we can start collecting questions.
As a bi-cultural person, I consider myself an ambassador, or liaison of sorts. I’ve had Anglos ask me questions about Latinos, and Latinos ask me questions about Anglos. I really love to be able to bridge any gaps in understanding, (and have a little fun at the same time!)
So, if you have a question, ask me! You can ask in English or Spanish, and you can remain anonymous. I look forward to hearing from you!
This morning I awakened before the sun, and it was not because I wanted to. I came out of a deep sleep to the sounds of some strange bird tweeting right by our bedroom window. Putting my pillow over my head only half-suffocated me, (that never works). Finally I just yelled in the direction of the window, “SHUT UP!” but that didn’t work either. I laid in bed hating that stupid bird which reminded me so much of my nemesis in El Salvador, the Pichichi.
The Pichichi is some sort of duck, in English it’s called the “Black-bellied Whistling Duck“, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that the noise that bird makes sounds like a really loud and demented doggy squeak toy from hell and it nearly drove me to insanity.
Most of our time in El Salvador was spent in the city of San Salvador at my husband’s childhood home, but we spent a couple nights in Chalatenango at the house of a Tio and the Abuelos. It was at the Tio’s house where I met the Pichichi. I’ll admit that at first I thought he was cute, but that all changed after the sun went down. I climbed into my hammock with my tired, sweaty baby on my chest. My oldest son was a year old at the time and still very fussy. It was difficult to get him to sleep, especially without the comforts of home, and he’d become so exhausted and overwhelmed that he would cry for hours at a time. I wrapped him in a blanket to shield him from the mosquitoes which feasted on me instead, and tried to get comfortable. I woke often, itching from the mosquito bites and unaccustomed to the swinging motion of the hammock, feeling like I was falling, worried I’d drop the baby. The baby would cry out in protest each time I moved and so I tried my best to hold still.
It wasn’t just the hammock and the mosquitoes though. Right out the window in the adjacent courtyard lived a Pichichi, and that stupid duck made its torturous noises almost all night. Every once in awhile I yelled, “SHUT UP!” towards the window, but it was no use. When I thought he had finally given in to my demands, the sunlight started to filter in through the curtain and the rooster started his shift.
The next day my Suegra had scheduled our son’s baptism at the church. At the time I was devoutly Protestant and I was upset that this had been arranged without my permission. I was feeling rather emotional, and the lack of sleep did nothing to help matters. The day of the baptism was incredibly hot. The sun beat down unrelenting, and in the small, windowless church, we all sweated through our clothes. The baby began to cry, and so I began to cry as well. No one quite knew what to make of it.
At one point in the ceremony, the Padre addresses the parents and the padrinos saying, “Do you believe in the Catholic church?” … I’ve never been one to lie, and I had no idea my husband had intended for me to just silently go along with things. “I’m Protestant!” I blurted out through my tears. Everyone was silent for a moment as the Padre seemed to wonder what to do, and then the ceremony went on as usual.
I probably didn’t make the best first impression on a lot of my in-laws when we went to visit El Salvador, but for some reason, they seemed to understand me, even if I didn’t totally understand myself.