Category Archives: suegra

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.

Souvenirs from El Salvador 2011

It’s that time again! Suegra has been back for quite awhile now but I’m just now getting a chance to blog about all the things she brought. Besides my super chévere typewriter, queso, frijoles and T-shirts, we received many other gifts – and this isn’t even all of them. She has a fully packed suitcase back in El Salvador which she wasn’t able to bring. A visiting Tía will hopefully deliver it to us soon.

Not pictured below is a special chile spice and achiote which I asked her to buy. Apparently TACA confiscated those from her carry-on luggage. Suegra put up a fight, but it was useless – they wouldn’t allow it, (maybe it looks like powdered explosives?) … I pouted about this and the suitcase full of stuff she left behind and Carlos rightfully chastised me. “Look at all this stuff you got! And what did I get?” he asked, looking around.

I held up a plastic baggy with a little bundle of crusty old gauze inside it, “this?” I said, holding up the bag that contained his umbilical cord which Suegra had brought back with her from El Salvador.

“That’s right,” Carlos said, snatching the baggy. “You got a typewriter and I got my old belly button.”

Here are some more of our souvenirs, (no umbilical cord photos included because that’s icky.)

Carlos can’t complain either. He got a Jesus towel. I’m glad this wasn’t gifted to me. I think I’d feel uncomfortable actually using it.

Carlos also got an image of San Antonio, who was his father’s favorite saint.

…And he got his school I.D. from when he was in middle school. Is it wrong that I find him incredibly guapo despite the Menudo hair and the fact that he’s about 13 years old in that photo?


Our younger son got this little bag which is called a “morralito.” Carlos says fútbol players use them to carry their bottled water to the field.

Cajeta lollipops from our little primos.

More candies from the cousins.

Enough Penicilina to stock our own pharmacy.




Some sort of instant coffee. She used to drink a different kind. I have no idea why she brought this.

A Tía made this for me.

A pan made from clay. I still haven’t tried it yet. Suegra promises it won’t catch fire or explode but I don’t know if I trust her.

Pandillero hat? Why Suegra brought this for my older son, I have no idea. I guess it’s okay as long as he doesn’t get a tattoo on his face.

Want to see more souvenirs?

From El Salvador With Love
From El Salvador With Love (Part 2)

Camisas Guanacas

Suegra nos trajó muchas cosas de El Salvador – bastantes cosas que todavía no he tenido tiempo por compartirlas. Aquí están las camisas que me trajó ella, (Yo pedí especificamente camisas con palabras en Caliche – [palabras regionales salvadoreñas]. Suegra va a recibir una estrella de oro por la misión cumplida!)

Suegra brought back many things from El Salvador – so many things that I still haven’t had time to share them all. Here are the shirts she brought back, (I specifically asked for shirts with Caliche [Salvadoran slang] – Suegra gets a gold star for mission accomplished!)

Bueno, mis hijos no son exactamente 100% – pero me imagino que no hacen camisas que dicen 50% jijiji…

Well, my sons aren’t exactly 100% – but I imagine they don’t make one that says 50% hee hee…

¿Participaste en Spanish Friday? Dejame un comentario con el link a tu blog post!

Did you participate in Spanish Friday? Leave me a link to your blog post in comments!

Queso trafficking

You know those photos you sometimes see en las noticias of drug seizures? Bricks and bricks of confiscated cocaine, weapons and stacks of cash that the police lay out?

This is my freezer…

Before anyone reports me to the authorities, you should know that despite appearances, this is queso duro, (Salvadoran cheese), that my Suegra brought back from El Salvador. If you don’t believe me, you can come smell it for yourself. I’m not sure what cocaine smells like but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t smell like stinky socks.

Una sorpresa de El Salvador

(English translation in italics below!)

Usualmente cuándo viene mi suegra de El Salvador, me trae recuerdos, (ya tú sabes!) Los recuerdos son típicos de El Salvador, y a veces, predecibles – pero esta vez que regreso mi suegra, me trajo una sorpresa. El regalo que me trajo ella no sólo es lo más chévere regalo que he recibido de El Salvador, pero es uno de los regalos más chivo que he recibido en todo mi vida!

Usually when my mother-in-law comes from El Salvador, she brings me souvenirs, (you already know that!) The souvenirs are typical of El Salvador and sometimes predictable – but this time when my mother-in-law returned, she brought me a surprise. The gift she brought me is not only the most awesome gift I’ve received from El Salvador, but one of the coolest gifts I’ve received ever!

¿Puedes adivinar lo que está adentro de la caja?
Can you guess what’s inside the case?

Es una máquina de escribir! A veces siento que mi suegra no entiende exactamente que hago aquí en la computadora escribiendo todo el día – que ella piensa que estoy muy floja, pero tal vez me respeta en su manera.

It’s a typewriter! Sometimes I feel that my mother-in-law doesn’t understand exactly what I do on the computer writing all day – that she thinks I’m really lazy, but maybe she respects me in her way.

Mi hijito estaba más fascinado que yo. Me dijo, “Esto es lo qué usaban cuándo no habian computadoras?”

My youngest son was even more fascinated than I was. He said, “Is this what they used before computers?”

Ay! Pero qué lindo! Tiene la “ñ”!
Oh my gosh! How cute is that? It has the “ñ”!

Quién dijo que las máquinas de escribir son obsoletas? No puedo imaginar usandola por escribir un manuscrito, pero quizás puedo usarla por blogear?

Who said typewriters are obsolete? I can’t imagine using it to write a manuscript, but perhaps I can still use it to blog?


Participaste en Spanish Friday? Dejame un comentario!
Did you participate in Spanish Friday? Leave a comment!

Gorda y más Gorda

We’re sitting at the table, myself, Carlos and Suegra. She is telling us one of her stories – puro chisme, of course. This is what she brings back from El Salvador along with the souvenirs, suitcases full of gossip – usually about who died, who is dying, who is sick but not dying, and who got really fat.

“Recuerda la Nia Marí?” she says. Carlos nods. Yes, he remembers her.
“Tiene dos hijas,” she goes on, “y qué mujeronas!” Suegra says, “Con las panzas así!”

She extends her hands far out in front of her to show how fat they are. She tells us they look pregnant but they’re not pregnant. Then she gestures to me and says, “La Tracy no es nada!”

In previous years, this would have caused me to burst into tears, but I know she doesn’t mean it how it sounds. She isn’t the most tactful person and she probably thought she was giving me a compliment – but saying, “Those women are really fat – Tracy is nothing in comparison!” doesn’t translate well to English, does it?

To make matters worse, Suegra is force feeding me when eating is really the last thing I want to do. (Because although I didn’t cry, it did make me self conscious.) Last night she mixed up a jar of Tiste, poured a glass and forced it into my hands. “Drink it, drink it! You’ll like it!”

I don’t want to drink it-drink it. Tiste is made from corn, sugar, water and cacao, and though that combination sounds horrible, Tiste, full of carbs and sweetness, actually tastes good. I took the smallest sorbito I could, told her it was fantastic, and then handed it off to my older son when she walked away.

Other things she has tried to force feed me the past week: Semita (pineapple cake), Conserva de Coco (sugar coconut candy), and Hot Chocolate – (she had the cocoa specially milled for me in El Salvador.)

To make matters worse, Suegra bragged about how much weight she lost in El Salvador … She does this thing where she sticks her thumb in the waistband of her pants and pulls it out so we can see just how much.

Thankfully, the universe always keeps things in balance – including egos. We went to the Latino market and my favorite cashier (the one who gives me a discount), greeted Suegra enthusiastically. “Where have you been?” he said to Suegra. She beamed, for her absence was noted. “I was in El Salvador,” she said. “Ah,” the cashier responded, “Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen you in so long, but you look much fatter!”

Now Arriving

Last night we made our way to the airport to pick up Suegra. Thanks to taking the wrong toll road, we were running a little late. We finally got turned around in the right direction and the swooping roof of Dulles came into view. Leaving the car in the parking lot, we ran through the freezing cold, into the airport and down the corridor to International Arrivals. As it turned out, Suegra was still in customs, and would be for another hour and a half.

Carlos sighed and resigned himself to wait, but I wasn’t bothered by the delay. I think I could spend all day people watching – and international arrivals is even more magical than any other place to people watch. I like to invent stories about the people in my mind – stories about where they’ve been and where they’re going. Sometimes, if you watch and listen, you can find out what their real story is – at least some of it.

I never got to see who this man was waiting to greet. At first I thought it must be a novia. Qué romantico! He had a bouquet of pink roses and no less than three balloons, one shaped like a heart… but then I remembered, él es un hombre Latino, so those sweet gifts may be for his madre. ¿Quién sabe?

Everyone watched the two big doors to see who would come out next. One little boy ran out the door from customs and yelled “Papi!!!” – A man swept him up in his arms and carried him away with the biggest smile on his face. A hundred hearts melted right there.

Minutes later, a man came out the door from customs. A little boy ran to him and patted the suitcase asking, “¿Qué me trajiste?” This time we all laughed.

A frail but proud old woman was wheeled out of customs in a wheel chair. A group of teenagers exploded in shouts of “Abu!” and ran to greet her. One of the boys hugged her and shouted to his siblings who still hadn’t caught up, “I touched her first!” which made me wonder if they simply had a little competition going between them… A man next to me who probably didn’t speak English said, “Qué amor tienen por su abuela, va?”

A woman stood on my other side and she seemed more nervous than anyone else. I found out why when two little kids, a boy and a girl, came through the customs doors escorted by a flight attendant. The woman ran to her children and hugged them, then held them away from her as if to see if they were really real. She handed the boy the balloon she held in her hands. “¿Qué dice?” she said. The boy pulled the string downwards so he could read the balloon… “Welcome” he said in accented English. The mother nodded, “Bien.” As she zipped them into coats I heard her explain that in a few years, their father would join them and they’d be together as a family again.

Finally Suegra came through the doors. It was everyone else’s turn to watch us, to try to figure out our story, maybe listen in and see if they could capture a word or two to understand where we’d been and where we’re going.

¿Cuál es el vino más amargo?

Vino mi suegra… jajaja. Es chiste!

Tengo unas noticias, (quizás ya puedes adivinar qué son!) … Pero si quieres saber, tienes que mirar el video. Hoy hice mi blog en español para “Spanish Friday” con mi cámara de video en vez de escribirlo. Bueno, es cámara de video, pero sólo sale mi voz. Todavia no estoy lista por enseñar mi cara en video, aunque que no me molesta compartir fotos a veces. Cómo dijé a Carlos el primer día que nos conocimos, “Soy tímida.” Carlos me dijo, “Yeah right!” – pero es verdad. Un día, tal vez.

Bueno, pero aquí esta mi video. ¡Chécalo!

¿Did you play?

If you participated in “Spanish Friday” – leave a link to your blog post in comments!


As much as I wanted to, lullabies in Spanish were not something I could give to my children. Lullabies are the quiet songs whispered in the middle of sleepless moonlit nights – songs that come from our hearts, somehow deeply remembered within us but never formally taught, songs our mothers sang to us as babies.

My mother would gently swipe the hair from my forehead and sing “You are my sunshine”, and this was always the song that came to my lips when my children needed comforting.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
You make me happy, when skies are gray,
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you,
Please don’t take, my sunshine away.

That is the song I was raised hearing, and so that is the song that I sung. And sometimes I would inexplicably sing “Blackbird”, among a couple other Beatles songs. My father is a big fan of The Beatles, so maybe he listened to them while my mother tried to put me to sleep. ¿Quién sabe?

Lullabies in Spanish on the other hand, were provided to my children at times by Suegra, but I always found the lyrics puzzling, funny, frightening.

Duérmete, mi niño — (Go to sleep, my child)
Cabeza de ayote, — (Pumpkin/squash head)
Si no te duermes, — (If you don’t sleep)
Te come el coyote. — (The coyote will eat you.)

It loses some of its charm in English, no?

And another one she often sang was:

Qué bonito es mi niño — (How beautiful is is my child)
Se parece a su papá — (He looks like his Papa)
Qué bonito es mi niño — (How beautiful is my child)
Se parece a su mamá — (He looks like his Mama)

(Except when she was mad at me, she’d change the song to repeat the second line at the end.)

I wish I had known lullabies in Spanish to sing to my children, but I’m hoping I will know some for my future grandchildren… I will sing them the silly ones I learned from Suegra, but I want to sing them beautiful lullabies as well. Here is one I recently found que me encanta.

Lindo, ¿sí?

Which lullabies were sung to you? Which lullabies are sung to your children?

El Cumbo

I’m not easily annoyed, but the things that do annoy me can seem very random and weird – and the extent to which they have the power to annoy me is surprising.

Take for example, this red plastic bowl in my kitchen that I hate. It isn’t even a real bowl. The bottom of it says it was made in Guatemala and by the threaded lines around the lip of it, I can tell it used to be some sort of a container with a top.

This red container is what Suegra uses to drink out of. This is her cup for everything from coffee to juice. When we sit down to dinner and the rest of the family is drinking out of proper drinking glasses, she sits down with her red “cumbo”, which is the size and shape of a giant tub of butter. When it goes missing she immediately turns on me and accuses me of having finally thrown it out, only to find it buried in the tupperware cabinet.

She’s in El Salvador right now and so it’s very tempting to make it “disappear”. I could say it was in a dishwasher accident – that it fell on the heating coil and melted… but it would be too obvious…and so the red cumbo lives on, mocking me, and waiting for Suegra to return.

Note: “Cumbo” is Caliche (Salvadoran Spanish) for any sort of “container”.


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