On This Day, We Are All Mexicans

BY TRACY LÓPEZ
(Originally published on CafeMagazine.com on June 21, 2010 as part of their World Cup coverage.)

In a world divided by borders and intolerance, there are rare moments to be savored which bring people together, and inspire an outpouring of love and unity. Often times it’s a natural disaster like an earthquake, such as the one that shook Haiti earlier this year. Other times we’re brought together by a political event, the death of someone loved around the world, or by a religious celebration – but sometimes we are unified by an amazing triumph, such as Mexico’s historic 2-0 win over France.

When East Germany erected a wall, then-President John F. Kennedy stood on the steps of the Rathaus Schöneberg in 1963 and, declaring his support for a free and united Germany, said “Ich bin ein Berliner” – or in English: “I am a Berliner.” In the shadow of the 9/11 attacks against the United States in 2001, as the entire world stood in disbelief and grief, many countries declared in solidarity, “On this day, we are all Americans.”

And on June 17, 2010, as “El Chicharito” Hernández scored the first goal and led “El Tri” to victory, it felt as if, for a brief moment as we shared in their pride and glory, that on this day, we were all Mexicans. In the words of the English singer Morrissey, “I wish I was born Mexican, but it’s too late for that now.”

From Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, South Africa, to El Ángel de la Independencia in Mexico City, fans cried tears of joy and sang “Cielito Lindo.” Mexican-Americans, Latinos of all nationalities, (and believe it or not, a few gringos too), couldn’t help but be swept up in the moment, and maybe – just maybe – we shed a tear or two as well as we watched the triumphant band of brothers, their jerseys stuck to their bodies with sweat, embrace each other as the song, “One Day” by Matisyahu echoed over the pitch.

“…All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
for the people to say
that we don’t wanna fight no more
they’ll be no more wars
and our children will play
one day…”

-One Day by Matisyahu

Mexicans vs. Salvadorans

mexico-versus-el-salvador

Last week the United States lost to Mexico in the final Gold Cup game. My husband and I were both rooting for the U.S. team. We had even bet money – which was my unfortunate idea. Carlos has Mexican co-workers who give him a hard time for being the only Salvadoran amongst them – so I thought this would be a good way to get a little revenge and make some cash at the same time… well, it would have been if our team had won – instead, it lead to us being $40 poorer and some marital discord.

You see, while I was disappointed by the loss, Carlos, a Salvadoran by birth, was more than disappointed – he was angry, and it wasn’t about the money – it was about the Mexicans teasing him, the Mexicans who had beat our team, and, apparently, the entire country of Mexico itself.

When I told him to calm down he said, “You don’t understand! You don’t know how they are! I’m going to have to put up with that shit all day!”

“Don’t let it get to you,” I advised. “They just want to see you get upset. If you pretend it doesn’t bother you, they’ll stop,” I told him, repeating the same advice my mother had given me a million times when my sister’s teasing had gotten on my nerves as a kid.

“You don’t know how it is,” Carlos said. At that moment, his cellphone buzzed with a text message. Carlos cursed then held the screen to my face. “See?!”

The text message was from a Mexican co-worker. It read:

Ey pupusa, ganó México. Mañana tienes que llevar el dinero! jajajajaja!

I tried not to smile because Carlos was obviously really upset, but even their nickname for him, (“pupusa”) – I found funny, cute, and totally harmless. It was just guys being guys – but Carlos didn’t see it that way.

The thing is, I know Carlos doesn’t hate Mexicans. We have Mexican friends – people he really likes very much. He listens to Mexican music right along with me, without complaint, (usually), and likes Mexican food. When I cook Salvadoran dishes he puts Valentina hot sauce on it, (authentic Salvadoran food is not traditionally spicy, but Carlos likes everything picante.) He loves Pedro Infante, Cantinflas, El Chavo del Ocho, India Maria. As a proud Salvadoran, he even confessed that he knows a few bars of the Himno Nacional Mexicano and sang it for me! (Although he only learned it so he could pass as Mexican if stopped while immigrating through Mexico on his way to the United States.)

Even while I try to convince Carlos that he really does love Mexicans after all, I know animosity between Mexicans and Salvadorans isn’t imaginary – it’s real, and there are real reasons for it. If you ask a Mexican or Salvadoran why they don’t like each other, they may give you one of the following reasons, or they may offer no compelling reason at all. Here is what I found – (The content below is quoted from various sources. Sources are included. Latinaish.com does not necessarily agree with or endorse the opinions below.)

IMMIGRATION

“El problema con los mexicanos es [que] quieren tener de menos a los salvadoreños y centroamericanos, nos subestiman… cual crees [que] es el mayor desafio para un salvadoreño o centroamericano al emigrar a USA, es el temor a ser asesinado, secuestrado, mutilado o violado por mexicanos, se aprobechan de los emigrantes centroamericanos cuando ellos tambien tienen la misma necesidad de nosotros de emigrar hacia USA…” – Salvadoreño, Yahoo Answers

“Yo vivo al norte de méxico y el otro día viendo las noticias comentabamos mi mamá y yo como era posible la discriminación de razas sobre todo al sur del país con los salvadoreños ó guatemaltecos que cruzan la frontera, siendo que el presiedente de méxico va cada rato a USA a pedir que no traten mal a sus indocumentados, yo viví en USA una temporada y ví como en USA no los tratan tan mal como dicen los de la “migra” a los mexicanos indocumentados, y me pregunto yo ¿con que cara los méxicanos tratan mal a los salvadoreños ó guatemaltecos que cruzan la frontera?, vi en una entrevista al presidente de guatemala diciendo que había ido con el presidente de mexico para pedir por sus indocumentados y le comentó este que el acababa de llegar de USA por lo mismo y cuando llegó de ahi tenía una llamada del presindente de belice para lo mismo y cuando llego a su pais el presidente de guatemala le esperaba una llamada del presidente de el salvador y era para pedirle por sus indocumentados. Imaginate dijo todos estamos abogando por lo mismo….y me dio una pena ajena con la gente del sur de mi país enterarme que los tratan tan mal y que todavía se quejen que en USA los tratan mal con que cara piden respeto si no repetan… todavía recuerdo un día que llegarona ala casa unos salvadoreños pidiendo comida eran una pareja con dos niños como llegaron hasta sonora solo dios sabe, les dimos todo lo que pudimos y les dimos la bendición cuando se fueron. No todos odian a los salvadoreños aqui hay gente que es del salvador viviendo y los tratamos muy bien saben porque? porque al norte no se vive como al sur del pais, es triste pero cierto.” – Mexicana/Yahoo Answers

HISTORY

“Shortly after Central America gained its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico tried to swallow the region into its burgeoning empire. The fiercest opposition? El Salvador. Eventually, republic-minded Mexicans stopped their country’s ambitions and allowed El Salvador and the other Central American provinces to create the United Provinces of Central America. That lasted into the 1830s, by which time Mexico was too busy dealing with another imperial power to care much about recouping its former holdings. And if you know anything about Mexico, it’s que we don’t take thefts of our lands lightly.” – Gustavo Arellano/Ask A Mexican

GANGS

“The Mara Salvatrucha gang originated in Los Angeles, set up in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants in the city’s Pico-Union neighborhood who immigrated to the United States after the Central American civil wars of the 1980s…Originally, the gang’s main purpose was to protect Salvadoran immigrants from other, more established gangs of Los Angeles, who were predominantly composed of Mexicans and African-Americans.” – Wikipedia

JEALOUSY: TPS (TEMPORARY PROTECTED STATUS)

El Salvador became a “temporary protected status” (TPS) country in 2001, following two earthquakes that killed 1,000 people and destroyed more than 200,000 homes.

After intense lobbying by the Salvadoran government, the TPS was just extended for another 12 months. That means Salvadorans who were living in the United States in 2001 – many of them illegally – can stay and work for another year. TPS comes up for renewal or termination every 12 to 18 months.

TPS is designed to aid countries reeling from a natural disaster, civil war or other destabilizing situation.

…Some of the seven TPS-designated countries get extensions though their disasters happened long ago. Christopher Bentley of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says “assessments” and “studies” help decide whether to extend TPS and whether holders can return safely home.

Jose Romero, a 31-year-old Charlotte construction worker [now] earns three times what he did in his native El Salvador.

He got TPS five years ago after living in the U.S. illegally for five years.

Romero told his fellow construction workers, most of them Mexican, about his TPS. They were happy for him, but jealous.

“They’re never going to give us anything,” he said the Mexicans told him.

- Article by Tim Funk and Danica Coto / McClatchy Newspapers

RESENTMENT: CULTURAL DOMINANCE AND TRYING TO FIT IN

“Juan Carlos Rivera knew that if he wanted to get a dishwashing job at the MacArthur Park hamburger stand, he would have to pretend to be Mexican. But the thought of lying made the Salvadoran anxious.

He paced outside the restaurant, worried that his melodic Spanish accent, his use of the Central American vos, instead of the Mexican tu, would give him away.

…In his best Mexican Spanish, the Salvadoran asked: ¿Tienen trabajo? (Do you have work?)

When asked where he was born, he swallowed his pride and answered: Puebla, Mexico.

The job was his. For three days, Rivera scrubbed plates in conspicuous silence. He knew the Mexican cooks were onto him. Especially the one from Puebla.

…Juan Carlos Rivera struggled to keep up his ruse even when the suspicious cook began to quiz him on popular Pueblan food, including Puebla’s specialty, the cemita.

“How do you like it?” the cook asked.

“With pineapple,” Rivera said. Little did he know that what Salvadorans knew as caramelized sweet bread, Pueblans knew as a meat and avocado sandwich.

“I knew you weren’t Mexican,” the cook said smugly before running off to tell the manager.

- Article by Esmeralda Bermudez/Los Angeles Times

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“It’s always Mexico, Mexico, Mexico,” said Jorge Mendoza, a 42-year-old painter, one of a group of Salvadoran men who gathered recently at MacArthur Park. “I turn on the radio and all I hear is Mexican music. If I want to watch a soccer game, I have to watch a Mexican team play.”

- Article by Esmeralda Bermudez/Los Angeles Times

PRIDE

“Salvadorans don’t hate Mexicans as much as Mexicans hate Salvadorans…This isn’t a generalization of all Mexicans, but many of them do this. Mexicans are the majority in most places where Salvadorans live, like San Fran, L.A., and Houston. In Long Island and Miami Salvadorans get along with the Ricans, Dominicans, and Cubans fine. The problem is that Mexicans always usually display an arrogance that rubs all Latinos the wrong way. Not the Argentine, snotty type arrogance. The fist pumping, I’m a Mexican! arrogance. They insult us b/c of our accents, and feel they are superior. They don’t understand our history but we have to understand theirs.” – Enrique/Topix.com

FÚTBOL

“Pues supuestamente todo fue por culpa de un partido de futbol. En las eliminatorias para un mundial El Salvador le gano a México y lo descalifico para llegar al mundial. Esa es una explicacion ya que El Salvador nunca a tenido un buen equipo y a los mexicanos les dolió que un equipo como El Salvador los descalificaran…si no me equivoco fue en 1976.” – Salvadoreño/Yahoo Answers

PUPUSAS vs. GORDITAS

(Okay, not seriously, but while we’re arguing, I thought I’d throw it in there for fun.)

(Thanks to Juan for letting me use his video here to bring a little levity to a heavy topic.)

WORDS OF WISDOM

“Esto no es mas que pelear por tonterias … todos somos humanos, somos de la misma especie y los único que nos hace “diferentes” es una simple ubicación geográfica …somos humanos no somos ni mas ni menos, todos iguales … me parece bastante inmaduro pelear solo porque vivimos en distintos lugares del mundo … por cierto soy salvadoreño y ya dejen de pelear por tonterias.” – Salvadoreño/Yahoo Answers

NOTE: As always, comments are welcome below, but comments containing violent threats or hate speech will not be published. (This message is for both Salvadorans and Mexicans equally.) Please feel free to share your thoughts or experiences on the topic in a thoughtful, intelligent manner that avoids name-calling or inflaming tensions. This post is not intended to stir up resentment but rather to point out the problems so they can be put aside.

If you say you love fútbol, I hope you’re watching the Women’s World Cup

I am out $40 thanks to the U.S. Men’s team. Hopes were high in the beginning with a two goal lead but Mexico proved too fast and the U.S. team, too disorganized. A sampling of my tweets from last night:

• USA! USA! USA! … Don’t let me down. I’ve got $40 on this game. lol #goldcup #copadeoro

• gooooooooooool USA!

• claro – que viva mexico… pero que gane los EEUU jajaja ;) RT @soonerclone viva mexico!!

• Gooooool #2 USA & Donovan does the chicken dance in celebration lol #copaoro #goldcup

• Now 2-1 US leads MX. Goal by Barrera. #copaoro #goldcup

• Mexico ties it up. 2-2 Chicharito smartly steps over the ball to avoid offsides #goldcup #copaoro

• Mexico takes the lead 3-2 #copaoro #goldcup

• Ayyyysh! stupid porteria!

• Dempsey shouldn’t have done that. Beating up on cute little Chicharito looks bad lol

• Noooooooo :( U.S. COME ON! ergh.

• @UcCaliChic25 LOL… this is difficult to watch. Like a lion slowly eating a gazelle on NatGeo #goldcup

• Felicidades Mexico. Team USA, I’m out $40 because of you. I am disappoint #goldcup

• Carlos is unhappy. Mexican co-workers are texting him to gloat lol …He turned his phone off.

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Okay, I wanted to get a photo of the text Carlos received but he is really, really sore about it. He doesn’t find it funny at all. (For one thing, they address him as “Pupusa” – that’s his nickname as the only Salvadoran at work.) … Anyway, he is so far from amused that I actually need a separate post to talk about it – so that has to wait until más tarde.

As for the game, I’m really disappointed but I kind of don’t understand why some people are such sore losers. I’m not just saying this because I like El Tri. I really wanted the U.S. to win, (like I said, I lost money betting on them!) – but in the end, it’s just a game, isn’t it? Look, I get totally passionate about fútbol, but I promise you, it really is just people kicking around a round object. When you think about how insignificant each human is in this universe, it seems rather silly that the inability of a handful of men to kick a ball into a net, should ruin your day.

Besides, there are other things to move on to, like the Women’s World Cup now taking place in Berlin, Germany.

Unfortunately, (*cough* due to gender inequality *cough*) – it’s not as easy to find the Women’s World Cup games on television as it is to find men’s games (of any kind.) … It frustrates me but I also find it strange to think about. The women’s team is not getting the same treatment just based on what is, (or isn’t), in their gym shorts. It’s really baffling when you look at it like that.

Ni modo, here is where you can follow the games if you can’t find them on T.V.

FIFA
ESPN 3
USSoccer.com
AOL.SportingNews.com

Other interesting links:

FIFA treats women’s game as a burden – FOX sports/JENNIFER DOYLE

Fun fact:

“Until World War I, women players had to keep their hair under a cap or bonnet and hide their legs inside voluminous bloomers. In the 1910’s, when many men were away at war, crowds flocked to see women’s exhibition games. This wider acceptance of ladies’ soccer enabled women’s teams to start wearing soccer outfits that were similar to those worn by men and more suitable for the game.” – pg. 29 / Eyewitness Books: Soccer

…two steps forward, one step back…

“Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?” – Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, 2004 (source)

“How good does a female athlete have to be before we just call her an athlete?” – Author Unknown

Latin Dance 101


(image source: Putumayo.com)

You hear Latin music and it makes you want to dance – but is it a Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, or something entirely different? The beat tempts you to the dance floor, but what do you do once you’re out there?

Today my friend and professional Latin dance instructor, Jennifer Gonzalez, guest posts and gives us the basics!

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Lovin’ that Latin Dance!

by Jennifer Gonzalez

It is hard to believe that just 13-14 years ago I had no idea that merengue, salsa, bachata, or cha cha cha were dances. Ok, maybe in the ballroom world I had heard a bit about cha cha cha or salsa but definitely nothing else. The only type of Latin dance I had ever laid eyes on was whatever came out of Mexico or California. As much as I love the Mexican culture – the dance just didn’t do it for me.

Then one day, I met this man. He was (well, still is) Puerto Rican and he introduced me to ‘his’ music! I fell in love with the music instantly.  For one of our dates, we went to go to see the movie, “Dance With Me” staring Chayanne and Vanessa Williams. In the movie, Chayanne takes Williams’ character to a club where they dance ‘real’ salsa (not the ballroom kind.) My eyes probably popped out of my head at that moment as I watched and saw what I thought looked like the most fun you could have out at a club.

I told my then-boyfriend, “I must learn how to dance salsa!” So for my birthday we went to a tiny little club that we had found in the City Paper. After only one lesson I was hooked. I had no problem with the rhythm or the steps and wanted more. What I didn’t know was that these lessons were going to open up a whole new world to me full of music, dance, and culture. Little by little I started to learn other dances, where they came from, and how they fit into the culture of Latin America.

What intrigues me is that many times people have a hard time distinguishing Latin music. A merengue will be playing and someone will ask, “Is that salsa?” No. They sound nothing alike. To me.  How can you tell them apart? You learn about them!

Merengue
Merengue is the easiest of the Latin dances to learn. It involves just two beats and two steps. 1-2, 1-2. The man and women mirror each other’s feet as they dance and start in closed-position. As they step, there is a slight bend to the knee which will move the hips. They key is to not move your shoulders to the side or to bounce – that will give you away as a gringo (or non- Hispanic person) immediately!   The bend in the knee while dancing gives the hips the movement that everyone wants but works so hard to achieve. Because of the easy steps, the leader can move through series of turns without too many issues.  The dance originated in the Dominican Republic in the 19th century and is considered the ‘national dance’.  If you take a trip to the Dominican Republic and stay in a resort, you will most likely find merengue dance lessons each afternoon or evening (sometimes both).  You can see the basic movement in the videos below:

Bachata
One dance gaining in popularity right now is bachata.  Everyone and their mother and brother want to learn Bachata – especially here in the Washington DC area. Again, this dance comes to us from the Dominican Republic. Many call bachata the ‘country music’ of Latin music. The lyrics are often full of heartache, pain, and love and as a result, the dance itself can portray all of these things. Traditional bachata dancing requires partners hold each other very close in the closed position. Their legs will straddle so as to not step on each other’s feet (with the woman’s right-leg often between the men’s legs while dancing).  The dance involves 4 steps – 4 to the right, 4 to the left with the 4th step being a left-lift or hip pop (see the video).  Although many dance very close together, it isn’t necessary. It can be beautiful danced with space between the man and the woman.

Salsa
Salsa dancing is one of the most complex Latin dances. Not only are the steps harder to learn but there are variations within the dance itself which have caused controversy for years.  Salsa music first originated in Cuba (as mambo) before being brought to the United States by Cuban musicians. The origins date back to Cuban Son. When the Cubans brought their salsa to the states it wasn’t yet considered ‘salsa’.  Only after the United States shut the doors to Cuba and other artists took the music, added their own flavor (like Fania All Stars) was it given the name ‘salsa’.  The style became immensely popular in Puerto Rico due to singers like Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Tito Puente, and others and slowly moved throughout the world. Today, you will find that styles of salsa vary from country to country. Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and more all have their own distinct style of moving.

What does salsa look like when danced? Excellent question! As people start to learn they may find themselves confused. The styles to pick from are: on1 (LA style), on2 (New York/Puerto Rican style), casino (Cuban style), or Colombian.  They each have their own way of relating to the music but one thing stays the same: the clave.  All salsa music is built upon the clave. If you dance up the clave or down the clave does not matter – just stay with the music. Salsa is danced in 6 beats: 1-2-3, 5-6-7 with on1 and on2 styles pausing for the 4 & the 8.  However, Cuban and Colombian salsa most often use every beat of the music.  Trying to decide which style to learn can be confusing but I suggest to just pick one, learn it well, and then move on to another.

Video 1 demonstration:

Cuban salsa:

New York Style:

Colombian Style:

Beyond Salsa, Merengue, and Bachata

Beyond the dances mentioned above there are numerous other Latin dances available. The most popular is probably the cha cha cha. Most people are familiar with the cha cha cha from ballroom dancing or tv shows like Dancing With the Stars. Again, cha cha cha was born in Cuba. It progressed from the Danzón and received the name ‘cha cha cha’ from the sound the footwork would make on the floor. And although many people call it just the cha cha – the proper name is cha cha cha. The footwork is most similar to salsa but with a syncopated step on the 4 and 8.  For a feel of the cha cha cha, I might recommend people break out their old Santana music and listen to “Oye Como Va.” This song was written by Tito Puente as a straight cha cha cha but Santana took it and created an incredible rock song. The cha cha cha is still there in the song. Although the cha cha cha can be danced to some popular music (as they show on tv) it is best danced to classic cha cha cha music for the proper feel.

 

Another popular dance is Afro-Cuban rumba. Again, ballroom took what they called rumba and created their own dance. When you say ‘rumba’ in Cuba or in Puerto Rico or other Latin American countries they will most often assume you are talking about the rhythm that originated in Cuba. Because rumba is so diverse and complex, I would suggest reading this article I wrote for Ritmo Bello which explains the types of rumba as well as gives examples.

 

Learning these dances not only gives people the opportunity to connect with a culture (Puerto Rican, Cuban, Colombian, Dominican, etc.) it provides an outlet for exercise and socializing. Some of my greatest friends have come through dancing salsa.  And for me, I know that I still have so much to learn. Watch the videos, pick up some music from Amazon or iTunes, and get in the groove!

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Jennifer Gonzalez has been dancing salsa for the past 12 years and salsa rueda/casino for the past 10. She danced and taught with SAOCO DC for 4 years before having to focus her interests elsewhere due to kids, work, and life in general. She has also taught at the San Francisco Salsa Rueda Festival for two years and independently throughout Northern Virginia. Jennifer dances LA Style on1 and salsa casino but prefers salsa casino. She has trained with Aramis Pazos in Washington DC in AfroCuban dance. She works full-time as a web content manager and in search engine optimization/social media marketing. In addition, Jennifer authors Salsa Casino in DC – a blog dedicated to sharing events, classes, and more that are happening in the Washington DC Metro area as well as teaching people about the Cuban history of dance. Additionally, she is a regular contributor to PlanetTimba.com and The Examiner. When she is not dancing, thinking about dancing, or writing about dancing she spends time with her two children and husband.

Salvadoran Folk Art

Village by artist Fernando Llort

The traditional style of art in El Salvador comes from the northern town of La Palma, and that is where artists are trained and live today.
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Originating from an artist named Fernando Llort, the art is simple and colorful, typically making use of animals such as birds, rabbits, and turtles, as well as common objects such as flowers, trees, and houses.
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After traveling and studying in Europe in the United States, Llort returned to El Salvador amidst war. Leaving San Salvador for La Palma, he started an artist workshop called, “La Semilla de Dios.”
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Teaching the people of La Palma to make art has given them an alternative way to make a living. Today, if you buy a souvenir in El Salvador, chances are it will feature folk art in this traditional style.
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One of my own souvenirs:
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A wooden cross from El Salvador


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Photos of murals in La Palma, which I really love.
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© All rights reserved by Richard & Jo


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© All rights reserved by Richard & Jo


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Image source: Permission granted by Flickr users Richard & Jo, (gracias!)
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Links:
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The website of artist, Fernando Llort (Free gift when you join the mailing list!)
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Souvenirs – Latinaish.com
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Souvenirs Part II – Latinaish.com
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La Virgen de Guadalupe

Today our church celebrates Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, but the forecast is calling for freezing rain so it may be postponed or canceled since the Spanish-speaking priest comes in from out of the city. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t attend the service, because it’s the one I look most forward to each year.

Raised Protestant, the Catholic relationship with the Virgin Mary was something that I had difficulty understanding at first. Protestants do not adore her the way Catholics do. I also found it confusing that there seemed to be a lot of Virgins in the Catholic faith. There is the Virgin Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin, etc. I later learned that these are not different virgins – they are all the same Virgin Mary, (mother of Jesus). Some of the names are just describing her attributes, (such as Our Lady of Peace), and others are for locations where she appeared to people.

Years ago, during the course of writing one of my manuscripts, I needed to do research on the Catholic faith. While researching, I discovered the Virgin of Guadalupe, and fell in love. There is something about the Virgin of Guadalupe that intrigues me more than I can really put into words.

Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes once said, “…one may no longer consider himself a Christian, but you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe.” And Nobel Literature laureate, Octavio Paz, wrote, “The Mexican people, after more than two centuries of experiments, have faith only in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery.”

If you don’t know the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe, allow me to share it with you.

There once was an indigenous Mexican man named Juan Diego. (His birth name was Cuauhtlatoatzin, but Juan Diego was the name he took when Spanish bishops converted him to Christianity.)

Juan Diego was a widower who walked every Saturday and Sunday to church. When it was cold out he wore a cloak-like covering called a “tilma”, a common type of clothing for the people of his tribe. On one particular Saturday morning (December 9, 1531), on his way to church, Juan Diego claimed to have seen a vision of the Virgin.

As he passed the hill at Tepeyac just outside of Mexico City he heard music and saw a light. A woman’s voice called him by name from the top of the hill, so he climbed up to see. Near the top he saw a beautiful young dark skinned woman dressed like an Aztec princess. She spoke to him in his native language (Nahuatl) and told Juan that she was the Virgin Mary.

The Virgin instructed Juan Diego to seek permission for a church to be built on that site and in return she would always care for the people there. Juan Diego did as he was told but the bishop asked for a sign to verify that what Juan Diego claimed had really happened.

Juan Diego returned to the hill and told the Virgin what the bishop had said. The Virgin then directed Juan Diego to go further up the hill and there he would find roses. He was instructed to gather the roses into his tilma. Juan Diego did as the Virgin instructed. (Remember it is winter time and roses would not have been blooming.) The Virgin then told Juan Diego to bring the roses to the bishop.

Not only was the bishop surprised by the roses because they were not in season but these particular roses were also not native to Mexico. These roses were native to his homeland (Spain). And then as Juan Diego emptied the roses from his tilma, it revealed an amazing image of the Virgin.

Juan Diego’s tilma with the image still exists today. It is on display at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. This is considered yet another miracle because Juan Diego’s tilma is made from the coarse fibers of the maguey cactus. A fabric of this type should have deteriorated after 20 years. (It has been in good condition for almost 500 years and examined by many scientists who can find no explanation.)

For those who take a more cynical view, there are theories that the Catholic church made all this up just to convert the native peoples of Mexico.

Today, many of those faithful to the Virgin of Guadalupe pray to her and ask miracles. Many claim she has healed them or loved ones from incurable illnesses. Some make promises to the Virgin in return for answered prayer. On the day of celebration for the Virgin of Guadalupe, some will walk on their knees, (some for miles), to her altar in gratitude and devotion.

Our church usually assembles in the street with mariachi at sunrise to sing “Las Mañanitas” to La Virgen. After misa, there is a procession and a traditional desayuno of pozole, tamales and champurrado.

I hope we will be able to go, but here are photos from last year.

Rear windshield of a car outside the church.

A guy at church was wearing a pretty sweet jacket. He turned around and let me take his photo.

Image of La Virgencita and rosas people left for her.

Mariachi.

Statue of La Virgen.

My youngest hijo asked if they have Cheerios. (He wasn't crazy about eating a tamal for breakfast.)

Modern Day Pilgrims

“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.” – Jon Stewart

The history of Thanksgiving we’ve come to know growing up in American public schools is little more than a fairy tale. The true history is muddled in uncertainty, contradiction, controversy and outright lies.

While I’m certainly not a historian and therefore not qualified to delve into this with any voice of authority, I can say one thing for certain – If it weren’t for the kindness and generosity of the Native Americans to the new immigrants to this land, they would not have survived.

Many tribes reached out to these new people and taught them how to fertilize, grow, harvest and preserve crops. They showed them which foods were safe to eat, instructed them on methods of hunting and fishing, and gave them many gifts.

What did they receive in return? Lies. Broken promises. Treaties that could never be trusted. Being forced into small parcels of land. Loss of their freedom, culture, language, way of life… Death.

Even today the indigenous people who cared for this land, in a way we do not today, are suffering the consequences of past generations.

This isn’t a guilt trip for white people, or others who were born here in the United States. Is it your fault? Did you personally steal, rape and pillage? No. And I don’t think we can hold people accountable for the sins of their ancestors. We’re all individuals responsible for our own behavior. But there is a lesson to be learned.

What we can do, is to live in harmony with those around us and teach our children to do the same – To be thankful for what we have and to share with others, including new immigrants from all over the world that come here to the U.S. – To live the example of those tribes who reached out to a people from an entirely different culture, race and language – To be thankful for what we have, and when we have an abundance, give to those who are not as fortunate.

After all, today’s “undocumented immigrants” are just modern day Pilgrims.

Happy Thanksgiving.

“Great spirit, grant me vision
that I may not go wrong
and find myself in prison
of things I have not done

Teach me the secret
that I might see
fill my heart with compassion
to love my enemy.”

-Robby Romero/Prayer Song

(image source)

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Latinaish.com Thanksgiving post 2009

Panes con Pavos (recipe)

Día de Los Muertos at The National Museum of the American Indian

Some people wouldn’t think that you can find Latin American art and culture at a museum for American Indians, but you can because Latin American culture is a mix of indigenous and Spanish culture. So, until Washington D.C. builds the much needed National Museum of The American Latino, this is a good place to look for a little Latinidad.

While the American Indian museum will have special events specifically for Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), they have many things on display year round.

“Day of the Dead rituals date back thousands of years. Early Mesoamerican peoples saw death as a continuation of life. They believed deceased members of their family could return to them during a month long celebration in late summer.

Spanish colonizers tried and failed to put an end to the ritual. Instead, to integrate it into Christian tradition, they moved its observance to the first two days of November: All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.”

-Printed on a plaque at The National Museum of the American Indian

These women were sewing and I didn’t want to disturb them by snapping photos too closely or interrupt them by asking questions, so I’m not sure of their ethnicity, but their colorful embroidery reminded me very much of Latin America.

Also on display…

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.

All paths lead to fútbol

Surrounded by Christmas presents including my first soccer ball. 1979.

My father played soccer before I was born. The dusty trophies on a shelf in the basement and a few faded sepia-tinted photographs were all I knew of it. I don’t remember my father ever watching soccer while I was growing up and though I was given a soccer ball for my first Christmas, the game was only played casually in our yard, just another ball that was part of our collection of toys, piled in a box along with cob-webbed baseball bats, tennis rackets, and flat basketballs.

It wasn’t until I started working at a little Italian restaurant that fútbol fever took over. The owner was from Italy, and as any good Italian should, he loved soccer, (“calcio” in Italian.) Business was often slow and he was infamous for working us hard, always reminding us in his thick accent, “If you can’t find something to do, I will find something for you. I am not paying you for nothing.” But during the World Cup, he allowed us to sit with him at the wobbly uneven-legged tables in the dinning room once in awhile to watch the games play on the little TV up in the corner, (though we had to re-fill ketchup bottles and salt shakers while we watched.) Sometimes he even forgot to complain that we were taking advantage of his generous “unlimited fountain drinks for employees” benefit.

It was during this time that I really fell in love with the game, and not just because it offered a momentary respite from scrubbing floor tiles with a toothbrush. The actual game itself is beautiful; there is beauty in the skill in which the men move the ball down the field, but also in the ball itself. Such a humble object, so humble that people have been known to create them out of trash in the most dire circumstances. There is beauty in the fact that the game is accessible to all, and that no matter our differences, for a brief time, it can bring the world together in a common love.

One of the few photos of his childhood. My husband and his father (lower right), with the team. 1978.

My husband’s love of fútbol is a very different story, (as is almost every story which directly compares our childhoods.) Growing up in El Salvador during a bloody civil war, with the sounds of helicopters and gunfire as background noise, he still ran out to kick the ball around with his friends. His father was the coach of a second division team, and my husband was the team mascot. Sometimes they would go to the crowded stadium to watch games, which could often times be dangerous as it was common for passionate, (and sometimes intoxicated) fans, to become violent. The Football War, (La guerra del fútbol), between El Salvador and Honduras happened before my husband’s time, but that just goes to show the passion they have for the game.

Though my husband has told me he wasn’t given toys as a child, and his Christmas present was usually a pair of shoes, (purposefully bought a few sizes too big so they would last), somehow he remembers having the official FIFA World Cup sticker albums. While I collected puffy, sparkly, and scratch-and-sniff stickers like most American children of the 1980’s, my husband collected stickers of futbolistas and it’s one of very few fond childhood memories he has.

So this year, as the 2010 World Cup in South Africa fast approaches, I encouraged my husband to buy the sticker album. He was at first reluctant, saying that there was no one to trade stickers with, but after I found out some friends would be buying the albums, he agreed. It didn’t take long for my husband’s enthusiasm to be re-ignited. When we bought the album at one of the local Latino markets, we bought a few of the sticker packets with it. The next day, he came home from work with more packets in hand, having stopped at the store on the way. Watching him open the packets and sort through them gives me a glimpse of the little boy he used to be.

We began brainwashing our niños at an early age. Our oldest son. 1998.

We also like sharing this experience with our boys. At first it was just to force our love of fútbol on them, but it turns out, the album provides a great opportunity for practicing Spanish. The pages are multi-lingual, listing the names of the countries and other vocabulary in a dozen or so languages.

As for the stickers, so far we’ve got three doubles. We’ve got an extra Sebastian Abreu (Uruguay/Sticker #86.), Maxi Rodriguez (Argentina/Sticker #117), and Hendry Thomas (Honduras/Sticker #612). Who wants to trade? :)