La Cerca (The Fence)

Image source: Orange Grove Media

Image source: Orange Grove Media

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Uno no siempre puede saber todo sólo mediante observar. Ser observador es importante, pero sólo si uno recuerda que como ser humanos, nuestra abilidad de ver algo con los ojos y destilar la verdad, es imperfecto, limitado e influenciado por nuestras propias emociones, experiencias, y creencias.

Tomemos por ejemplo esta sencilla cerca. ¿Por qué estaba construida? ¿Los dueños quieren privacidad? ¿Es por protección o un sentido de seguridad? ¿Quieren previnir que salga su mascota o sus niños? ¿O que no entran extraños y animales desconocidos? ¿Tal vez van a construir una piscina o tienen un perro que muerde, y no quieren poner sus vecinos en peligro? ¿Es por razones estéticas, que se ve bonita la propiedad? ¿Quizás quieren vender la casa y están agregando valor a la propiedad? o es que ¿No quieren que su vecino les moleste?

Lo único que sabemos es que hay una cerca, pero no podemos saber por cierto por qué hay una cerca sin preguntar a los dueños. Pero ¿por qué estoy hablando de las cercas y los supuestos? Estos pensamientos se inspiraron en una hermosa serie que he estado leyendo en The New York Times. La serie se llama “The Way North“, y se trata de la inmigración.

The Way North: Day 25” es una entrevista con una mujer que se llama Francene en Wichita, Kansas. Francene ha vivido toda su vida en Wichita en la misma propiedad. Ella cuenta tanto las experiencias positivas y negativas que ha tenido con los inmigrantes mexicanos en la communidad que han estado moviendo a las casas en su vecindad. Ella contó sobre jovenes mexicanos que quebrarón una ventana, y entraron en un edificio de su propiedad, dañaron y robaron cosas. Contó también del hombre mexicano y su hijo que hicieron las reparaciones a la ventana y trataron de cobrar menos por la reparación porque se sentían mal por lo que le pasó. Una parte de la historia menciona a la familia mexicana que vive detrás de la casa de Francene. Anteriormente Francene les llevaba sandías cada domingo durante sus barbacoas familiares … hasta que se construyó una cerca.

Al final del artículo, nos encontramos con Leonel, el vecino mexicano que vive detrás Francene – El mismo vecino que construyó la cerca. Cuando el escritor del artículo hablo con Leonel y le dijo cómo se sentía Francene, Leonel expresó sorpresa. “¿En serio?” dijo Leonel. “Ella es una buena persona. Yo no sabía que iba a molestarse. Simplemente lo hicimos para hacer la casa más bonita.”

Esta historia me puso muy triste, porque estos tipos de malentendidos y suposiciones dividen a la gente más que la cerca física. Es una lección de no saltar a conclusiones.

¿Qué “cerca” estás malinterpretando en tu vida?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

One can not always know everything simply by observing. Being observant is important, but only if one remembers that as human beings, our ability to see something with our eyes and distill the truth is imperfect, limited, and influenced by our own emotions, experiences, and beliefs.

Let’s take for example this simple fence. Why was in built? Did the owners want privacy? Is it for protection or a sense of security? Do they want to prevent their pet or children from going out? Or prevent strangers and unknown animals from coming in? Maybe they’re going to build a pool or they own a dog that bites, and they don’t want to put their neighbors in danger? Is it for aesthetic reasons, to make the property look nice? Perhaps they want to sell the house and they added the fence to increase the property value? Do they not like their neighbor and want to make it more difficult for that neighbor to bother them?

The only thing we know is that there is a fence, but we can’t know for sure why there is a fence without asking the owners. But why am I even talking about fences and assumptions? These thoughts were inspired by a beautiful series I’ve been reading in The New York Times. The series is called “The Way North“, and it’s about immigration.

The Way North: Day 25” is an interview with a woman named Francene in Wichita, Kansas. Francene has lived all her life in Wichita on the same property. She recounts experiences both positive and negative that she’s had with the Mexican immigrants in the community who have been moving into her neighborhood. There are the Mexican teenagers who broke a window, entered a building on her property, damaged and stole things. There is the Mexican man and his child who made the repairs to her window and tried to undercharge her for the repair because they felt badly about what had happened to her. One part of the article mentions the Mexican family that lives behind Francene’s house. Francene used to bring them watermelons each Sunday during their family barbeques… until they built a fence.

At the end of the article, we meet Leonel, the Mexican neighbor who lives behind Francene’s house – the neighbor that built the fence. When Leonel was told how Francene felt, he expressed surprise. “For real?” Leonel said, “She’s a nice person. I didn’t know it was going to bother her. We just did it to make the house look nice.”

This story made me really sad, because these types of misunderstandings and assumptions divide people even more than the actual physical fence. It’s a lesson in not jumping to conclusions.

What “fence” might you be misinterpreting in your life?

Aquí y Allá

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Image source: Antonio Méndez Esparza - All Rights Reserved

Image source: Antonio Méndez Esparza – All Rights Reserved

A veces veo una película o un documental, que me deja sin palabras – Aquí y Allá es una de ellas. Es difícil decir lo que pienso o siento por esta película. Es devastador, inquietantemente bella, me dolía el alma. Siendo muy honesta, la noche que vi la película, yo lloré hasta que me quede dormida, pensando en ella.

Aquí y Allá es parte ficción, parte realidad. Es la historia de inmigración contada desde el otro lado, cuando un mexicano regresa a México, a su familia. Pedro de los Santos, la estrella de la película, interpreta a sí mismo, y muchas de las cosas que le pasaron a él, fueron reales. La mujer que interpreta a su esposa, es en realidad su esposa. La música que canta, es música que él escribió. (Y aparte de la película, su música, su voz, son realmente muy hermosas.)

Siento que mis palabras no pueden hacer justicia a esta película. Sólo mírala, si tienes la oportunidad. (Averigüe dónde puede verla aquí.)

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

Sometimes I see a film or a documentary that leaves me without words – Aquí y Allá is one of them. It’s hard to say what I think or feel about this film. It’s devastating, hauntingly beautiful, it hurt my soul. To be perfectly honest, I cried myself to sleep thinking of the film the night that I saw it.

Aquí y Allá is part fiction, part reality. It’s the immigration story told from the other side, when a Mexican returns to Mexico, to his family. Pedro de los Santos, the star of the movie, plays himself, and many of the things that happen to him, happened for real. The woman who plays his wife, is actually his wife. The music he sings, is music that he wrote. (And apart from the film, his music, his voice, are really very beautiful.)

I feel that my words can not do justice to this film. Just watch it, if you get the chance. (Find out where you can see it here.)

Xenophobia and The Boston Bombings

foreigner_latinaish

The Boston marathon bombings – I didn’t think I would be writing about this, but here I am. Like most of you, I’ve been watching way too much TV, reading too many articles on the internet, and when torn away from those, listening to the radio in my car. Like most of you, I’ve had a lot of feelings the past few days on many different angles of this tragedy.

Tonight, the second suspect has been captured and it’s “over” … and yet it isn’t. I hear my fellow Americans chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” … and it seems somehow inappropriate. I understand relief. I understand pride in our first responders. I understand feeling some sense of justice or closure – but the all-out celebration, taking to the streets like revelers on New Year’s Eve? I can’t connect with it.

Those who died, are still dead; those who are mourning, are still mourning; those who are injured, are still injured. Those innocent people who were mistakenly caught up in the investigation, are still dealing with the resulting emotional damage. The young suspect in custody, if he survives, will face a long trial, all of which we will once again watch as if it’s some sort of sick reality show/telenovela hybrid.

After everything is said and done, we are left with scars – and some of those scars were inflicted on our society by the media, by irresponsible journalists. The use of racial profiling and the xenophobic language exhibited by journalists of networks I once respected, has disgusted me. It’s as if the journalists salivated at the idea that the suspects might be Muslim, as if that explains everything, when that fact alone explains nothing. That is why I’m writing this – It’s why I created a video – because at first, I couldn’t find words.

Maybe you’re not Muslim – most people who read my blog are not. Maybe you’re saying, “What does this have to do with me?” – Believe me, it has everything to do with all of us. The sentiments stirred up by the media, intentionally or unintentionally, are not only anti-Muslim, they are anti-“foreigner”, anti-brown person, anti-accent, anti-bilingualism, anti-immigrant. They are sentiments that divide and quite frankly, we’re better than this as a people, as a nation, and we deserve better than this from our news agencies.

If you agree with me, please consider sharing this video far and wide.

The Girl

thegirl

When I first saw the trailer for The Girl, I knew immediately that I wanted to see the film – and then I found out that it opens on March 8th in New York and on March 15th in Los Angeles, (two locations I’m nowhere near.) Thankfully I not only got the opportunity to screen the film online, but to interview the director, David Riker.

I think you’ll be able to sense how much I loved this film from my interview questions (below), but if it isn’t clear enough, I’ll tell you – I loved it and recommend that anyone who is able to see it – go see it. I’ve watched a lot of films with immigration and border themes – this one is different thanks to the fact that it’s told through the eyes of a gringa who is already struggling with her own issues. The Girl will make you think, and then think twice about border issues and what defines a good life.

Description:

From David Riker, the director of La Ciudad, and Paul Mezey, the producer of Oscar-nominated films Maria Full of Grace and Beasts of the Southern Wild, comes a new film The Girl.

Abbie Cornish plays Ashley, a young single mom struggling with the loss of her child to Social Services, unwilling to accept the consequences of her actions and trapped in the quicksand of her south Texas life.

When Ashley’s path collides with Rosa (Maritza Santiago Hernandez), a strong-minded girl who has lost her mother while crossing the Rio Grande, she unwittingly begins a journey that will change her life forever.

Starting in a big box store in Texas and ending in a small village in southern Mexico, The Girl turns the immigrant story upside down, questioning the myth of the American Dream and asks that we consider the possibility of a better life – south of the border.

Interview with Director, David Riker

Latinaish: I understand you also wrote the script for this film? What was your inspiration?

DR: My inspiration to write the script has its roots in my debut feature, called ‘La Ciudad’ which was filmed over the course of five years in New York’s Latin American immigrant community. Listening to so many stories of sacrifice in crossing the border, I decided to travel there and see with my own eyes. What I saw was deeply upsetting, but also surprising, and after traveling back and forth through the borderlands I came to realize that my own preconceptions of the border were false — as is the central myth that hope is in the north. That realization led me to consider a story in which the logic of the border were turned upside down — and to ask the question, what might happen if an Anglo crossed the border — south.

Latinaish: The cinematography of this film was really breathtaking, particularly scenes that took place in Oaxaca, Mexico. Was this shot on location? Can you tell us about that?

DR: Yes, almost all of the film was shot in Mexico, but due to the violence in Tamaulipas (including Nuevo Laredo) we were not able to film along the border. This was a major creative setback as I had spent several years developing close relationships with people in the border city and had every location scouted. In the end we filmed all of the Mexico portion of the story in the state of Oaxaca — much of it in the Istmo, though some in the capital, in addition to the village at the end which is in the Sierra Norte. ‘Re-creating the border’ became the central creative challenge we faced, affecting every department from production design, casting, and wardrobe. The cinematographer is one of the stars of Mexico’s new generation, known for his lyrical work in El Violin.

Latinaish: Which scene was most difficult to capture, either emotionally or physically, and why? What challenges did you face on set?

DR: The most difficult scene… An interesting question. From an emotional standpoint, without a doubt the scene when Rosa realizes her mother has died. From a logistical standpoint, perhaps the nighttime river crossing which I intentionally wanted to film as a baptismal event. Every scene is a challenge, and every challenge is different. More than anything you are battling the lack of time and limited resources, and desperately fighting against compromise. But the Mexican crew and the actors were like a family and we all fought the battle each day together.

Latinaish: I love that the “gringa” in this film, “Ashley”, played by actress Abbie Cornish, spoke Spanish so much of the time, but there was no explanation in the plot as to how the character learned to speak it so well – Can we assume she learned it just by living in southern Texas or from her co-workers? Did the actress, Abbie, already speak Spanish before the film?

DR: You are right, Ashley’s character was a composite of many people I’ve known, and a number of characters I met along the borderlands. Ashley speaks spanish because she has grown up in a Spanish-speaking world in South Texas. But Abbie Cornish didn’t speak a word. I think it’s a great testament to Abbie’s talent and force of character that she was undaunted by the challenge and threw herself into it with total commitment. As she said the first day we met to talk about the project, she didn’t simply want to learn her Spanish dialogues by heart, she wanted to understand the language.

Latinaish: The character “Rosa” played by Maritza Santiago Hernández had a fantastically stubborn personality in the film and I really fell in love with her. Was this her first film? Are there any other projects we can look for her in any time soon?

DR: I too fell in love with Maritza. She is an amazing girl, and yes, this is her first film role. I spent a great deal of time ‘searching for Rosa’ and saw thousands of young girls in communities all over Oaxaca. The casting took more than a year of full time work. I was not looking for a girl who could ‘play’ Rosa — I was looking for Rosa. And when I finally found Maritza I knew I had found her. She needed to be small but very strong, or tough or as you put it ‘stubborn.’ She needed to be full of life and light, but also depth. She needed to be naughty but also thoughtful. And of course she needed to have the indigenous features of the zapotec people in Oaxaca. After the film’s Mexico premiere at the Morelia Film Festival many journalists asked if she wanted to have an acting career. Her answer: ‘first she’ll finish school and become a teacher.’

Latinaish: What do you hope to accomplish with this film? What do you want the audience to take away?

I appreciate the question, as hope is the thing that sustains every storyteller. I hope that the film helps to generate dialogue about what it means to be an American, what it means to be an immigrant today, uprooted and far from home. I hope it helps to re-frame these questions in such a way that real understanding can begin — not through the limited lens of political debate – but in the broadest sense — what is our common humanity? What is it that divides us, and what do we share in common? Of course I know that it is after all only a film, so the goal must be modest. If people enjoy the story, are happy to meet young Maritza and to travel the journey with Ashley, I’m already a happy man.

Links:

DavidRikersTheGirl.com
The Girl on Facebook
The Girl on Twitter

Comedy + Undocumented Immigration: Do they mix?

Scene from film short, La Línea

When I received an E-mail from a man named Evan about a film described as “An indie feature comedy about undocumented immigration” – I was intrigued but also wary. “How can undocumented immigration be funny?” I asked myself.

I continued to read Evan’s E-mail, giving him the benefit of the doubt and followed the link he gave me to a Kickstarter campaign where I could find out more. (Kickstarter is a website where one is able to raise funds for projects.) The project, Sun Belt Express, is a film he wants to produce – and, well, I’ll let him tell you about it.

Even after viewing this video and sensing real sincerity from this guy, I was still a little skeptical. Mixing comedy with such a sensitive topic wouldn’t be easy, and if done without care, could do a lot of harm. I didn’t want to endorse something I wasn’t totally certain about so I asked if I could see the full length version of the film short, La Línea, to get a sense of what he’s up to. After watching it, I was sold. I can see why La Línea received the recognition that it did at film festivals and I can’t wait to see more from Evan and his team. What they’re working on is something special – something that deserves to be made.

The more I think about it, what could be more representative of Latinos than the ability to find humor in even the most difficult of situations? It’s one of the things I identify with and admire most about the culture.

I started to think about Carlos’s journey to the United States and some of the stories he’s told me – and yes, there are some funny ones – Maybe I’ll share them here one day, but for now, if you want to know more about Sun Belt Express, click over to their Kickstarter campaign, support them with a donation, and spread the word so they can get funded before the fast approaching deadline.

Latinaish.com at the White House – The Issues

On May 21st I attended the LATISM Top Bloguera Retreat in Washington, D.C. and part of that event included a White House briefing on issues affecting the Latino community. Today I want to share my experience and some of the things I learned which I think are worth passing on.

The main issues discussed were Health and Education, however, that didn’t stop Meagan Ortiz of Vivir Latino from kicking things off with a very good question regarding immigration. Of course the answer to the question was less than satisfying to anyone who has long supported comprehensive immigration reform, but perhaps that was to be expected.

(Check out Meagan’s thoughts on her experience here.)

Meagan’s question seemed to ignite others. Passionate blogueras lined up and asked very brave and difficult questions. I was proud to be in a room full of women who weren’t afraid to stand up and speak their minds.

Roxana Soto of SpanglishBaby asked about bilingual education and the possibility of more dual immersion schools – again, the answer she/we were given, didn’t satisfy me, but I still feel that our voices were heard, and that’s a start.

(Check out Roxana’s thoughts on her experience here.)

While the blogueras were given plenty of time to ask questions, the White House also had plenty of talking points and messages they wanted to get out to us and to the Latino community as well. Here is video I took, highlighting some of the parts I found most informative.

Here are some links to learn more about the programs mentioned in the video:

FNS.USDA.gov (Nutrition Assistance Programs)
La Mesa Completa
Let’s Move!
Let’s Move! – Spanish version/español
Choose My Plate
Choose My Plate/Mi Plato – Spanish version/español

_______

What information did you find most useful or surprising? What question would you have asked?

Latinaish.com at the White House

As you all know, I attended the LATISM “Top Bloguera” Retreat in Washington, D.C. Since coming back home I’ve had a lot to catch up on with work, my family, the household, and on top of that, we’ve been having some suegra drama so I haven’t had the luxury of sorting out my thoughts on the event, (let alone my videos and all my photos!)

I did write a recap for Latina Bloggers Connect though, and here is what I said, in part:

“Me personally, I’m still processing it all. I’m the type that needs a few days to think before I can say for certain what conclusion I’ve come to, but I can say with certainty that the event did the following for me:

The Top Bloguera Retreat encouraged me to re-think what I put my energy into and to consider whether I need to re-focus or re-distribute that energy in a different way for more satisfying payoffs, (emotional as well as financial.) – Now you know why I have a lot of thinking to do!”

(Read the rest at: Latina Bloggers Connect.)

The White House briefing was really informative. The Obama Administration has done a lot of things that benefit not just the Latino community, but all communities, and I’m hoping to bring you the highlights of what I learned in an upcoming post.

For now, check out the White House blog: #LatismAtTheWH – Latinos Active in Social Media Visit the White House.

Immigrant Voices: Christmas

Image source: wallyg

Immigrant Voices is a new feature I hope to do here on Latinaish.com once in awhile. Basically I will pick a topic and those who identify with being a Latino/a immigrant will send me their thoughts/memories on that topic to share here. Those who participate are welcome to remain anonymous if they wish. If a name is given, I’ll also provide a link back to their Twitter profile and/or blog.

Today’s topic is “Christmas.” I hope you enjoy the stories shared here today.

“My first Christmas in the United States, I don’t really remember. I had only been here a couple months and I wasn’t working yet. All the days passed the same sometimes. My second Christmas here, in 1997, Tracy and I had a wedding date picked in January but she lived with her parents and I still lived with my brother. That year my brother went with his wife and daughter to Puerto Rico to visit her side of the family. I was all alone in their apartment on Christmas Eve and there wasn’t even any food in the house. I didn’t have money or a car. I didn’t really have any friends. It started to snow outside the windows, and someone knocked at the door. It was Tracy and she came with grocery bags full of food. We pulled the sofa bed out of the couch and spent the evening eating and watching T.V. together. It wasn’t anything like Christmas in El Salvador, but I was happy during those hours she stayed with me.”

- Carlos López (Blog)

Image source: Bryan Gosline

“My best memory is that of the Christmas I spent with my grandpa in Tejutepeque, a small village in Cabanhas.

My sisters and I ended up living with him for a while and part of that time included the Christmas season. He didn’t have a tree or anything else as he wasn’t accustomed to having kids over or in general, decorating his house.

His solution: chop down a coffee tree from the local hills. He then proceeded to decorate it with whatever was around the house like packing peanuts, etc. In the end, everyone in town wanted to check it out because it was so unique.”

- Angel Magaña (Blog/Twitter)

Image source: marthax

“For my mom, my sister and I, living ‘sin papeles’ was hard enough, but when the holidays came around it felt like we had it twice as hard…mainly because we moved around a lot and we never knew if we were even going to have a Christmas or where we would end up. But somehow my mom always worked her magic and found a way to get a tree and put gifts under it for us. And if we needed a place to stay, we knew we could always count on friends or family. We may not have had much, but just being around family and friends during the holidays was very comforting and gave us some of the best memories of our childhood.”

- Rafael Gameros (Twitter)

“I was 7 when I came to live in the States. Besides the general cultural shock, the Christmas tradition shock was even greater. I had always spent Noche Buena with my Abuelitos in El Salvador, but only my Abuelita migrated with me. Abuelito refused to come. So the first 3 or 4 years, right after opening presents, stuffing my face with “Sanwiches de Pollo Salvadoreños” and having fun with my family, my stomach would become a knot and I would retire to my room, to cry. It would not be a melancholic cry either, it would be a hysterical sob fest. I still get chills remembering my 9 year-old self crying into my pillow, missing my Abuelito and the Salvadoran Christmas of my younger years. Abuelo passed away 3 years ago, and I only saw him twice after emigrating to the US…”

- Emisela (Twitter)

Image source: ley.la

Celebrating Christmas as a Latino in the U.S. means strategically finding the line between your own cultural beliefs and society as a whole. For us, it means going to mass on Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus but also enjoying Santa and all the commercialism of the day. When my “American” friends ask how we celebrate Christmas, I find it hard to say that we had tamales – my response is usually, “traditional/family.”

- Hector Flores (Twitter)

Image source: mexicanwave

“Growing up, my sister and I would have to board a plane every other year to spend Christmas with our dad and his new family in Houston. We were always happy to visit and be with him, but I could never get over the fact that Christmas in Houston was much quieter and serene than it was in El Salvador. I always missed the smell of pólvora (gun powder) and going to sleep way, way past midnight to the sound of cuetes being lit all around.”

- Ana Flores (Blog / Twitter )

Image source: Joe Shlabotnik

Early Christmas Day… we groggily made it out of bed, following my mother into the living room…There, smiling from ear to ear next to the white three story bookshelf he’d built with his own hands was my father, not saying a word, just pointing at what was sitting on each layer of the shelf…Immediately we raced across the room, screaming and hollering, jumping from one end of the room to the other with our brand new toy cars in our hands. The size, make, model, and even the color of our cars, today, are memories long gone, many, many years ago, but the one thing that has always remained in the deepest and most treasured of my childhood memories is the feeling in our hearts that morning.

We knew we didn’t have any money. We didn’t have a Christmas tree, or even so much as a single Christmas light anywhere inside or outside of our house, but somehow, some way, whatever little money they had, our parents had managed to make certain we didn’t wake up to just another day on Navidad. Even better, my two older sisters didn’t get anything at all and they were just as happy and excited for us as we were.”

-Juan Alanis (Blog / Twitter)
(Read this story in its entirety: Miracle in Edingburg, Texas)

Image source: kfergos

My first Christmas was in Michigan. I was recently married, so it was the first Christmas with my hubby, (so romantic). I loved the idea of a white Christmas, a freshly cut tree, a fireplace, different food to what I usually had etc. But then it hit me. I had no family to hug at 12 o’clock, no fireworks, no kids’ laughter, no cumbia music in the background. I felt very nostalgic. I felt so lonely and even though my husband had tons of love and presents to give me, there was an enormous emptiness in my heart. I talked to my family, every single one of them. They were all together at my house. They told me what the menu was going to be, all the fireworks they had bought, and how much they missed me.

-Claudia (Blog / Twitter)

Image source: emilyonasunday

Tijuana

[Today is Spanish Friday, so this post is in Spanish. For an English translation, scroll down. If you participated in Spanish Friday, please leave your link in comments.]

Sólo en años recentes aprendí a pronunciar “Tijuana” correctamente. A oidos de hispanohablantes, los gringos a veces la pronuncian como es alguien en su famila… “Tía Juana.”

Fui una vez a Tijuana – era mi primera vez en salir de los Estados Unidos – y la unica vez que yo ponia pies en México, lindo y querido.

Yo era joven – no más que 10 años. Mis abuelos estaban viviendo en San Diego y cuando fuimos a visitarlos, dijeron un día, en vez de nuestras frecuentes visitas a lugares como Disneyland y Sea World, por qué no vamos a México?

Unos años más tarde, me puse a pensar que es injusto que fuimos a México sin pasaporte, sin planes, sin miedo, sin ahorrar dinero por pagar un coyote, sin ninguna vergüenza.

Yo era una niña, un poco molesta porque no pasé el día con Mickey Mouse, mientras yo estaba rodeada de niños más joven que yo, vendiendo chicle para poder sobrevivir.

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

Only in recent years did I learn to pronounce “Tijuana” correctly. To the ears of native Spanish speakers, gringos sometimes pronounce it as if it is someone in their family… “Tía Juana.”

I went one time to Tijuana – it was my first time leaving the United States – and the only time I set foot in Mexico, lindo y querido.

I was young – no more than 10 years old. My grandparents were living in San Diego and when we went to visit them, they said one day, instead of our frequent visits to places like Disneyland and Sea World, why don’t we go to Mexico?

Some years later, I began to think about the injustice of it – that we went to Mexico without a passport, without plans, without fear, without saving money to pay a smuggler, without shame.

I was a girl, a girl who was a little annoyed because I didn’t get to spend the day with Mickey Mouse. Meanwhile, I was surrounded by kids even younger than myself, selling chewing gum to survive.

El Salvador – Tín Marín Children’s Museum

My kids have been to plenty of children’s museums so why take them to one while we were in El Salvador? Because they’ve never been to a children’s museum in SPANISH!

I thought it would be funny to get a photo of the kids in front of this part of the entrance sign.

The Tín Marín Museo de los Niños in San Salvador is next to Parque Cuscatlán. Even though we were there on a day when most of the country was off for holidays, there was absolutely no line when we arrived. The friends we brought with us have lived in San Salvador their whole lives but had never been to the museum which opened in 1999. (We suspect because of the cost. Admission is $2.50 plus an extra dollar if you want to go to the planetarium. That’s $3.50 per person – a very good price to us, but unfortunately not affordable for all locals.)

If you’re trying to remember which famous Salvadoran “Tín Marín” is, (like I did) – give your brain a rest. As it turns out, Tín and Marín are invented characters.

Meet Tín (left) and Marín (right)

The staff at Tín Marín are incredibly nice and obviously love working with children. Seeing the way some of the young men engaged the kids at the museum was really cute.

They had a lot of fun things to do – a pretend bank, movie theater, airport, doctor’s office, dentist, volcano, fire station, art area, butterfly garden, and more. The first thing we wanted to do was check out the airplane. They have the actual cockpit and whole first class section of a TACA airplane on the property – but the tours are scheduled as “flights” … So while we waited for our departure time, we checked out a section that teaches kids about cellphone use.

Translation: "Did you know that in El Salvador there are more cellphones than people?"

Translation: "Answer calls at church only if it's an emergency."

I also took my younger son to the “doctor’s office.” A little girl seated at the receptionist desk chatted on a plastic phone. Seeing us at the window, she told us to have a seat. A few seconds later, the doctor, who was all of maybe 3 years old, came out in scrubs. He wordlessly waved us back to the exam room and my son hopped up on the table.

“Buenas tardes, doctor,” I said. “Mi hijo no se siente bien. Está enfermo?” [Good afternoon, doctor. My son doesn't feel well. Is he sick?]

The little doctor whose head barely came above the exam table, reached up and put the stethoscope on my son’s chest and listened for a moment. “Está enfermo,” he said.

“¿Tiene medicina?” I asked. [Do you have medicine?]

The doctor opened and closed an empty drawer. “No hay,” he said. [There isn't any.]

(Apparently we had gone to the public hospital.) We thanked the doctor and told him we’d get his medicine at the pharmacy instead.

Finally it was time for our “flight” – so we lined up. The Tín Marín guide for this tour was a very well-spoken young man and great with the kids. He would give them information and then ask them questions to see if they were paying attention. At one point he explained that you have to get a passport and a visa to travel to the United States. Then he asked the group, “What do you need to go to the United States?”

The kids obediently answered, “A passport and a visa!” … I whispered to Carlos and his friend, “or cash and a coyote.” … So we started laughing like bad kids at the back of the classroom.

Finally we were able to board the airplane. There weren’t quite enough seats so I gave mine up knowing that some of the people, (including our friend’s wife and teenage son), had never been on an airplane and this was special to them.

Carlos smiles for a photo while his friend pays attention to the tour guide.

After we exited the airplane, we went to check out the rest of the museum.

My younger son learns to hang clothes to dry.

My favorite part of the museum was the mini grocery store. They had laminated grocery lists you could use, (this teaches reading skills among other things – and for my kids, Spanish vocabulary) – but there weren’t any hard and fast rules. Kids could play however they wanted. So you get your list, (or not), go around with your little cart, get your groceries, and then go to check-out.

At the check-out, the “cashier” was so great with the kids. He would tell them things like, “Ah, you bought milk. When you drink milk you build healthy bones! Good choice!” … After everything had been scanned and put back into the cart, he told the child the “price” and then asked “Efectivo o crédito?”

“Efectivo” was a new word for me. I knew immediately that it meant “cash” but I had always used the slang word “pisto.” (And now I knew why the waiter at the fancy hotel in San Salvador tried not to laugh at me. One evening while I watched the boys swim I felt so sleepy I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I decided to have coffee delivered poolside. The waiter asked how I’d like to pay. I responded, “En pisto.”)

Anyway – the cashier asked my son “Efectivo o crédito?” – My son looked at me for guidance.

“Mejor efectivo,” I said.

“Efectivo,” my younger son said, pulling imaginary money from his pocket and paying.

When the “cashier” went on break, my younger son took his job at the register.

I loved seeing my kids playing with native Spanish speaking children and not having any problems. My younger son checked out several children at his register and asked them “Efectivo o crédito?” – So cute.

Wait a minute. This customer looks familiar.

My youngest son is actually almost 10 years old but he’s small for his age, and he uses it to his advantage. While other kids his age feel self-conscious playing pretend, he still jumps right in and has fun.

Our younger son works to repair downed power lines.

My teenage son tried to act like he was too cool for the museum, but when he saw our friend’s son, (who is also a teenager) enjoying himself, he started playing too.

Making pupusas... plastic ones.

Is it just me or do Salvadoran teenagers feel less pressured to act “cool” and “mature” when they reach a certain age? … It was really refreshing to hang out with our friend’s teenage son. He taught my teenage son to just have fun and not worry so much about what other people might think. That’s a good lesson for everyone to learn.