Feminine Strength vs. Machismo

Image source: Ray Larabie

In high school we would have one week of gym class that we spent in the weight lifting room. It was in a dark, windowless room down a forgotten hallway. Students were allowed access to it after school but it was often forgotten, except by the jocks. The girls stood in a corner talking, watching the boys, examining their nails and refusing to do anything other than a minute on the rowing machine – preferring to take a zero for the day. I, however, loved our week in the weight lifting room.

Already known for challenging boys to arm wrestling contests at lunch time, (and sometimes winning), my reputation was further sealed by my behavior in the weight lifting room. The boys gathered around to see how much I could bench press, taking bets that I wouldn’t be able to do it each time the peg was moved lower and the weight got heavier. I fed on their pessimism. I loved being underestimated. I took a deep breath, felt the muscles ripping but pushed, pushed, pushed, my lips closed tight, my nostrils flaring. I heard them say knowingly to each other, “She can’t lift it” – as I struggled. My arms shook and I pushed harder still until I would feel the weight give way and my arms straightened above me in victory.

I didn’t care that I wasn’t the kind of girl you ask to the prom, but instead the kind of girl you ask to help push the car when it breaks down. I come from a family of strong women. My mother is well-known for re-decorating while my father is at work – sometimes moving heavy furniture up and down two flights of stairs by herself.

I associated femininity with weakness and wanted no part of it, but I realized how simplistic this point of view was when I gave birth to my first child. Giving birth is an act that is simultaneously the height of femininity and strength. Now, as the mother of two boys, the lone female in a household full of males, I value my feminine side more than I did growing up. Being married to Carlos though, has made me examine my femininity from a cultural perspective. It hasn’t been easy to sort out.

I will try to open a jar of pickles. Carlos will offer to help, reach his hand out for the jar, and I’ll turn away with the jar, stubbornly determined to do it myself. This is when Carlos will tell me I’m like my mother or say, “Why do you have to be so American?!” … to which I’d reply, “Why is it an insult to your manhood for me to open the pickles myself?!”

Over the years, I’ve learned to (usually), hand over the jar of pickles. It makes Carlos feel good to do it for me. I never pretend I can’t do anything, but if it’s difficult, why not give him the satisfaction of feeling that he takes care of me?

I thought that over the years, Carlos and I had mostly ironed out this one cultural wrinkle. We both have made compromises. I let him open jars of pickles that are difficult for me to open, (damn you, carpal tunnel) – and he doesn’t expect me to act completely helpless – fair enough… but at the grocery store while I was unloading the cart at the cash register, I retrieved the case of bottled water from the bottom of the cart and hefted it up and onto the conveyor belt. I thought nothing of it but Carlos whispered through clenched teeth, “Hey, you should have asked me to do it. You’re embarrassing me.”

Embarrassing Carlos was not my intention or even something I had considered – I just wanted to get the groceries checked out so we could go home, (and for the record, the cashier seemed completely unaware of the battle going on right in front of her.) I guess the lesson here is that Carlos and I will always have cultural issues to work on – nothing is ever resolved so completely that it won’t pop up again, so ingrained are the traits we bring from our two different backgrounds.


What is your take and your experiences on the topic of feminine strength vs. machismo?

Do you want to rent a movie?

Image source: Eddie Does Japan

More arguments at Casa López start with this seemingly innocent question than I would like to admit. Here is a transcript of what happened this past weekend when Carlos uttered those 7 little words.

Carlos: Do you want to rent a movie?
Tracy: Yeah, sure.

{We both sit down in front of the computer to see what’s new in RedBox.}

Tracy: How about Saving Private Perez?
Carlos: That looks stupid.
Tracy: It’s supposed to be stupid, that’s why it’s funny.
Carlos: No, pick something else.
Tracy: How about this?
Carlos: What’s that?
Tracy: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.
Carlos: What’s it about?
Tracy: Let’s watch the trailer.
Carlos: No! Just read the description, just tell me.
Tracy: Why would I just read the description when there’s a trailer right here and you can see with your own eyes? {clicks play}
Carlos: {sighs}

{trailer ends}

Carlos: I still don’t get it. What’s it about?
Tracy: It’s about women in China who have a special friendship. The cinematography is so beautiful, don’t you think?
Carlos: Um, yeah, but it looks depressing. Can we get something with a little more action?
Tracy: Fine… How about this?
Carlos: Which one?
Tracy: A Better Life.
Carlos: What’s it about?
Tracy: A father and son who immigrate to the United States and the difficulties they face. There’s probably a little action in it, I’d imagine.
Carlos: I lived that, I don’t need to watch it.
Tracy: Carlos, come on. This looks like a good father, son story. Look. {clicks play}

Tracy: {starts crying}
Carlos: You’re crying! I’m not renting this! You’re crying already! This is just the trailer! This movie is depressing!
Tracy: Why are you yelling at me?!
Carlos: Because you’re crying and you don’t want to rent anything good!
Tracy: Fine, you pick but I don’t want to watch anything with aliens or explosions or war, or the end of the world, or exploding aliens ending the world, or—
Carlos: How about Fast Five?
Tracy: Or car racing! You’ve seen that three times already!
Carlos: Well I like that one!
Tracy: Come on! Pick something we haven’t seen!
Carlos: Xmen.
Tracy: Ew, no.
Carlos: Captain America?
Tracy: Dude, we saw that when we were in El Salvador.
Carlos: But we saw it in Spanish.
Tracy: It’s the same movie! … What’s with you and super heroes anyway? No super hero movies either.
Carlos: You’re being so picky!
Tracy: You’re the one whose being picky! There are a bunch of movies I’d love to watch and you won’t watch them. It’s not like I’m asking to watch Jane Eyre or some other girly movie. The worst part is I told Redbox they should have more documentaries and foreign films and now you never want to watch them with me so they’ll probably stop stocking them.
Carlos: {laughing} They put them in there just for you?
Tracy: I told them to! I tweeted them!
Carlos: {sighs}
Tracy: So what are we renting? Are we renting anything? … We’re going to end up renting something like Dolphin Tale.
Carlos: I’d watch that.
Tracy: Seriously, Carlos?… The dolphin needs a tail so Morgan Freeman and a little boy help the dolphin get a tail, the end. I’m not watching that.
Carlos: So, are we not renting anything?
Tracy: I guess not… maybe they’ll have something we can agree on next week.

10 años

[Scroll down for English Translation]

Los vemos antes de que nos vean. Él es Latino, ella es una gringa – los dos son jóvenes, sin hijos, como nosotros hace más de diez años atrás. Parece que ellos están en un pleito, (de qué, ¿quién sabe?)- peleando sobre algo que no van a recordar en diez años, o aún mañana. El inglés chapurreado de él, y la voz bajita de ella, es como una de mis propias memorias. Ahora, nos ven, otra pareja igual que ellos, pero sonriendo, felices, tomados de la mano, con dos hijos creciendo a nuestro lado. Tal vez vean que una relación como la nuestra, puede funcionar, que todo va a estar bien. Que a pesar de los retos encontrados en un matrimonio como el nuestro, pueden vivir felices para siempre. Ellos caminan en la otra dirección.

Él toma la mano de ella.

_______________________

English Translation:

10 Years

We see them before they see us. He’s Latino, she’s a gringa – both young, no children, like us over ten years ago. They seem to be arguing, over who knows what – something they won’t remember ten years from now, or even tomorrow. His broken English and her hushed tones sound like a memory. They see us then, another Latino and gringa couple, smiling, happy, holding hands, with two half-grown children by our side. Maybe they see that it can work, that it will be okay. That despite the challenges encountered in a marriage like ours, you can live happily ever after. They walk off in the other direction.

He takes her hand.
___

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Miami Randomness

Carlos arrived in Miami a few hours after I did. When I kissed him hello he asked if I’d been drinking. “Just one Cuba Libre with Carrie,” I said. He sat down. He stared out the window. “You’ve only been here a few hours and already you’re drinking? … That’s not good,” he said.

We weren’t off to a very good start. I took his photo while telling him, “Cheer up! We’re in Miami, trick!” … That didn’t help. I promised no more drinking unless he was with me. He stopped pouting and we went for a walk.

The first order of business was to buy the boys a post card. I wanted to send it right away so it would arrive home before we did – We found a CVS and I bought one. (I later wrote the message, addressed it, put postage on it, and sent it… To this day, it has not arrived.) … While Carlos paid for the post card, I wandered outside. This dog was tied to the bike rack. I thought he was cute.

Both of us were starving so we continued to walk, in search of lunch. Carlos was looking for familiar fast food. I was looking for something new and exciting. This is a metaphor for our relationship in general. Carlos wants the comfort of the predictable. He wants things to stay the same – he wants to know what to expect. I, on the other hand, want to explore and discover. I want to try anything and everything. I think that frightens Carlos sometimes.

Eventually, Carlos relented and let me have my way, again, pretty typical for us… I think I’m just more willing to “argue to the death” as he says, and he gives up.

I was on a mission to find Cuban food. Every time someone who seemed “local” would walk by, I’d nudge Carlos and say, “Ask them!” and he’d say, “No, you ask!” … This happened a few times. When I finally got up the nerve to ask an elderly Cuban guy hobbling by with a cane, (I assume Cuban only because he was wearing a straw fedora, but I could be wrong), I realized we were standing in front of a place called “Bernie’s L.A. Café.” I saw some Cuban food on the menu in the window so we went in. The bilingual waitress was super nice, the prices were decent and the meal was simply amazing – very fresh, high quality food.

We both got the Cuban sandwich, (and tostones just because.) They served these really tasty pieces of toasted bread with a basket of different hot sauces. Mango habanero, (judging from the amount left in the bottles), is the most popular, and it was certainly my favorite.

The tostones came with “mojito dipping sauce” … I don’t know what it was made of but I need to find out. It was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had. The sandwich portion was so big that we both only ate half and brought the leftovers to our room for a second meal later.

By the way, another must visit place – InStyle Cupcakes. Last time I went to Miami, Carrie introduced me to them. I like cupcakes to begin with, but with varieties like Dulce de Leche and Churro, I became a little obsessed. Since I knew we’d be back in Miami, I took to Twitter stalking them. If we’d have been given more free time, I was more than willing to invest the money in taking a taxi to visit them, but thankfully InStyle delivered a box to Carrie’s room.

Surprisingly, though I’m not crazy about fruit-flavored things most of the time, guava is my favorite. Next time I’m in Miami and don’t have such a full schedule, hopefully they’ll agree to a taste-testing tour of their actual location… for journalistic purposes of course.

Anyway, after lunch we stopped at Whole Foods which was like a block from our hotel, to buy bottled water and some snacks, etc. for our hotel room. We don’t usually shop Whole Foods cause we’re too poor, but it was a good experience. (And their sushi is awesome.)

After dropping our things off at the hotel, we went back out to make the most of our day. We met with Dean of Surropa.com, who I’ve been in touch with via E-mail, Facebook and Twitter for over a year now, but had never met in person. We had a nice chat and he gave us a lot of tips about where we should go for fun before dropping us off on Lincoln Road.

I could have walked around hand-in-hand with Carlos all night, but I had a busy two days ahead. During those busy two days, Carlos began to feel some discontent growing inside him. At first he couldn’t sort out just what he was feeling and why. I became frustrated with his negative attitude, chalked it up to simple macho jealousy issues – so we argued, (apologies to whoever slept in the room next to 307 that night.) …Once we calmed down, we talked and talked until we unraveled the problem.

It turns out, Carlos is feeling “stuck.” He see’s me following my passions and he’s proud of me, but he doesn’t feel like he’s growing or achieving anything himself – and he doesn’t know what to do about it.

I told him he needs to mix it up, try new things, and see what happens. He was resistant at first, but then he made the brave decision, against his natural tendencies, to see what possibilities are out there. I’m happy for him because I know what he’s capable of despite what he was told growing up – despite what he came to believe about himself, and despite the challenges of living in this country as an immigrant. He’s the only one whose been holding himself back.

All these years he’s supported me while I follow my passions – now I will be there for him.

Disclosure: I went to Miami at the invitation of Telemundo. I have not been paid by any companies or restaurants mentioned. All opinions are my own.

Special Thanks to Corrientes for the use of their song “Tiempo y Espacio” which was perfect for my video. (Check them out: Jamendo.com.)

Courtship, Latin American style

Reading a book called “The Hacienda: My Venezuelan Years,” and though I don’t think it’s intended to be a comedic book at all, this part made me laugh, perhaps because it’s vaguely familiar.

“He said he would die if I didn’t marry him. He said it was my destiny. I was sixteen and I didn’t know then that it was an old cliché, as though, somewhere, there is a little latino lexicon of courtship which is learnt by heart in adolescence and then regurgitated to girl after girl.”

- Lisa St. Aubin de Teran

__

What have you been reading? Which literary quote made you stop to think or laugh lately?

Gringa Invasion

While she passes most of her time in Chalatenango proper where her family lives, and Soyapango where Carlos’s childhood home is – Suegra sometimes goes to visit her childhood home which is in a town in the mountains of Chalatenango called San Luis del Carmen.

I visited there one afternoon when we went to El Salvador. Against all my gringa instincts which screamed that I needed a seat belt, I rode in the back of a Tío’s pickup truck with my then one year old baby. They threw cushions from the sofa in to make the ride more comfortable. We rode up, up, up, stopped for some bony looking cattle to cross the road, and then up, up, up some more. San Luis del Carmen was very quiet. There was a pretty white church, typical Salvadoran-style cement block homes lining the road, the ever present chuchos aguacateros (street dogs), and a small store selling soda en bolsas and snacks.

A typical Salvadoran-style house. “DIOS ES AMOR” means & “God is love”

chucho aguacatero (street dog) that followed us

A little store selling snacks, etc.

Carlos enjoying a bag of orange soda and a snack.

Suegra’s modest childhood home has been kept in good repair despite being over 50 years old, though no one inhabits it. The home sits on a fair amount of land – the trees in the backyard are heavy with coffee beans.

That is how I remember San Luis del Carmen, so I was surprised when Suegra told me there are a lot of gringas there now – “jovenes, chelitas, americanas – como vos!” she says, though I imagine they are younger than me – maybe Peace Corp. volunteers or missionaries. She says they are pairing up with young Salvadoran men, (she emphasizes that they are dark-skinned country boys – “pero puro del campo!” she says, as if this made it more shocking, which to me it isn’t. Country boys have their charm though I married a city boy.)

Suegra went to San Luis during the feast day in December. During the festival, the town traditionally picks a “reina” (queen) … This year, the reina was one of the gringas.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I’m fascinated by the idea of an entire village that ten years from now may be made up of families that resemble my own. Part of me wonders if these girls know what they’re getting into. It’s one thing to marry a Salvadoran who has immigrated here – but quite another to marry a Salvadoran in El Salvador. My mind swirls with the compromises, sacrifices, and struggles they will face. Culture shock. Language barriers. Machismo. They are on his turf. They are on their suegra’s turf. As romantic as it appears on the outside, the situation raises many concerns.

Honestly, I do laugh a little imaging the phone calls home. The parents expect information about when to pick their precious daughters up at the airport now that their volunteer assignment has come to an end. Instead, their daughter’s voice sounding farther away than ever says, “Mom, Dad, I met someone here. I’m staying in El Salvador and getting married!” … Those poor gringo parents! …And then imagine when the parents go to El Salvador for the wedding. Will there be tears of joy or tears of sheer terror for what their daughter has done? (Oh wait, I’m just having flashbacks to my own wedding…jiji…)

But what about the relationships that don’t work out? What if they love each other but the girl desperately wishes to return home? It isn’t easy to adjust to a drastically different culture and way of life. It also isn’t that easy to bring your new novio with you thanks to immigration law which splits us all up into these man-made parcels called countries. Will the girls go home with broken hearts or will it be the muchachos who are left con el corazón en pedazos? (Either way, one must make the sacrifice of being away from their own family and culture.) If the girls stay in El Salvador, get married, start a family and then for whatever reason, end up divorcing, what happens with the children?

How do the Salvadoran women of San Luis del Carmen feel about this “invasion” of gringas? Do they feel animosity towards the gringas for “stealing” the men? Was it fair for an outsider to be chosen as the “queen” of the town?

If I were a sociologist, I know where I’d be buying a plane ticket to right now.

“Clementino” Part II

Okay, some of you have asked what else is happening with the “Clementino” situation.

I’ve found it amusing that I’ve now been labeled a “rompecorazones” – I don’t think I can see myself that way and I feel a little badly for Clementino – if his intentions came from his heart and not from lands further south, (si me entiendes.)

I still say it was a romantic gesture but ultimately it was made inappropriate for the fact I’m married, (and Clementino is, too.)

I tend to be a romantic and flirtatious person but I also believe there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. I try very hard to respect my husband by not doing anything that would hurt him. Carlos is generally okay with me being a little coqueta because he trusts that it won’t go further than una mirada, or sonrisita.

That being said, I don’t feel anything negative towards Clementino. I think he’s naughty and hope his wife doesn’t find out but he’s been so nice to me this past year, it’s difficult for me to be outraged in any way. I feel a little sad that he crossed the line though, because he put an end to what I saw as a casual friendship. I really liked going to the store – it was part of my weekly routine. It also feels strange to imagine him realizing after a few weeks, that I’m not coming back. Maybe it’s silly and I’m overly emotional, pero me da tristeza.

Bueno, I think most of you want to know more about how my husband has reacted though. Carlos has been acting differently since this happened. He is naturally a jealous type but he has worked to overcome his insecurities this past year, (lucky for Clementino!) … So, when I jumped in the car and told Carlos what had happened, he was a little on edge. He wasn’t happy about what happened, especially the part where Clementino touched my hand. He said that was pushing it too far and if Clementino tried it again, he’d break his fingers.

Knowing that Carlos felt that way, I was a little panicked to find out that he was going back to the store the next day, thanks to Suegra.

You see, after trying and failing to call El Salvador with the phone cards she had bought, Suegra came to me saying, “Tienes que decir a tu novio que estas tarjetas no sirven.” (Very funny, Suegra. She is going to get me into trouble!) – I refused to take her to the store to exchange them and so when Carlos came home from work, she asked him to take her.

Suegra told me that she wanted to scare Clementino. She said she was going to tell him she knew all about what he had said to her nuera and that she was going to tell Clementino’s wife. I begged her not to do this but she wouldn’t say anything more.

So, Carlos and Suegra went to the market. Both deny that they said or did anything. According to them, Carlos waited in the car and Suegra just went in to exchange her phone cards without mentioning anything. They are really good mentirosos though, so I don’t know if I believe them.

One thing I do know – Carlos has been super romantic since this happened. He has always been that way, but he has definitely been even more so lately. Here are some of his text messages…

When Carlos was hugging me last night, I asked him if he was worried that Clementino would steal me away. He hugged me tighter and said, “No… you’re mine.”

The feminist in me objects to the ownership implied in those words. The romantic in me says, “Yes, I’m all yours!”

Read: Clementino Part III