Will You Cut My Grass?

Image source: CC Brand

The other day my 13 year old son was out in the front yard pulling weeds, which is a weekly occurrence in the summer. He’s a good kid and took on the responsibility of cutting the grass, weed-whacking, trimming bushes and doing other yard maintenance. Carlos appreciates his help since he’s physically tired from work and our son does a good job.

So, the other day while our son was pulling weeds where the lawn meets the street, I didn’t think anything of it until I checked on him and found him engaged in a conversation with an elderly man who had stopped his car in the middle of the road. The man talked to him out of his rolled down window, my son stood with a hand on his hip, the other arm he pulled across his forehead to wipe off the sweat that rolled into his eyes. I figured the old man was asking for directions.

“Guess what?” my son said, coming into the house, the screen door slamming unintentionally behind him.

“That guy offered me a job cutting grass and pulling weeds at his house. He lives on the other side of the neighborhood.”

I was happy that my son had the potential to earn some spending money since he’s been bothering me lately about letting him get a job when he turns fourteen next month. (Carlos says it’s out of the question because he wants him to focus on his studies – but that’s a discussion for another day.)

While I was happy for our son, I couldn’t help but wonder if the elderly Caucasian gentleman would have stopped to ask the blond-haired white boy down the street to cut his grass if he’d seen him out pulling weeds. I’m not offended that the man asked, but I can’t pretend the question didn’t enter my mind. You could say I’m being too sensitive or too paranoid, except that last year when Carlos was out cutting the grass, another Caucasian neighbor stopped their car and called out to him.

“Excuse me!” he said, waving his arms to flag Carlos down.

Carlos shut off the mower and walked over to the car.

“Excuse me,” the man repeated, “Do you cut grass?”

Carlos took a moment to understand what this guy was thinking.

“I cut my own grass,” Carlos said, “This is my yard.”

“Oh,” the man said, “…Would you want to cut my grass? I’ve been looking for someone.”

“I’m sorry,” Carlos said, “I have enough work doing my own yard.”

“Okay, I understand,” the man said, “…Do you know anybody who would want to cut my grass? Do you have any friends that might want to?”

“No,” Carlos said, becoming annoyed.

“Oh, okay,” the man replied before driving away, “Thanks anyway.”

Would these Caucasian men have asked another random white person to come cut their grass? There’s really no way to know, but somehow I doubt it.

Ice Cream Cone + Taco = Love

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!

El año pasado compartí una foto de una camisa chistosa que encontré en una tienda que se llama “Five Below.” Five Below es una tienda que lleva un montón de cosas para jovenes y todo cuesta cinco dólares o menos, (de ahí, el nombre “Five Below.”)

Bueno, la semana pasada tuve que visitar esa tienda porque mi hijo mayor necesitaba un regalito para una amiga que estaba cumpliendo años y lo invitó a su fiesta.

Mientras estabamos buscando un regalito para la amiga, econtré otra camisa.

Como puedes ver, representado en esta camisa tenemos un cono de sorbete, (parece que es sabor de vainilla) – y un taco. Los dos están agarrados de las manos y el cono, (que es hembra con pestañas largas y un listón) – está diciendo, “It’s complicated.” (En español: “Es complicado.”)

Suponemos que ella está hablando sobre su relación con el taco. La camisa es super interesante. No sé si estoy analizandolo demasiado pero creo que la camisa está simbolizando una pareja intercultural – especificamente, una gringa blanca con un latino. O sea, soy un cono sabor a vainilla y Carlos es un taco.

No sé si es divertida la camisa o un poco ofensiva. ¿Qué crees tú?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

Last year I shared a photo of a funny shirt found at a store called “Five Below.” Five Below is a store that has tons of things for young people and everything costs five dollars or less, (hence the name, “Five Below.”)

Well, last week I had to visit this store because my older son needed a birthday gift for a friend’s party he was attending. While looking for the gift for his friend, I found this shirt.

As you can see, depicted on this shirt we have an ice cream cone, (it looks like vanilla-flavored), and a taco. Both are holding hands and the cone, (which is a girl with long eyelashes and a bow) – is saying, “It’s complicated.”

We assume she’s talking about her relationship with the taco. The shirt is really interesting. I don’t know if I’m over-analyzing it but the shirt seems to symbolize an intercultural couple – specifically a white gringa and a Latino. In other words, I’m a vanilla-flavored ice cream cone and Carlos is a taco.

I don’t know if the shirt is funny or offensive. What do you think?

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

__

“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.

Bicultural Identity

The other day my youngest son brought his art portfolio home from school. I’d pull out a drawing, he’d tell me a little about his masterpiece, and I’d compliment what I loved most about it. Then I came to this drawing:

I looked at him.
“That’s me,” he said.
“That’s … you?” I asked.
“Yeah. We had to draw ourselves.”

It’s a typical 3rd grader self portrait in many ways, except I couldn’t help but notice that the crayon he chose for his skin color is many shades darker than his actual real life skin color. Our youngest son is fair skinned like me, but this drawing showed him to be darker like his father.

I decided not to ask questions and moved onto the next drawing. I didn’t want to make a big deal over it and make him self conscious. Maybe it’s not an identity crisis. Maybe he’s just not self-aware? I thought to myself. Maybe somebody else was using the lighter crayon and he wasn’t patient so he used whatever color was available.

I had tried to forget about the self portrait but then this weekend I found him in the backyard like this:

I asked what he was up to and he said, “I’m trying to tan.” — He explained that he wanted to be more like his brother’s color, (which is not as dark as his father, but almost.)

I’m wondering if this is just a natural part of growing up in a bicultural family where your mother and father are two different shades? Maybe it’s just a normal distancing of himself from me that comes from age – maybe he wants to identify as a male with his older brother and father?

I’m not really sure what to do, if anything – except to tell him he’s perfect the way he is. What would you do?

Los Americans

I really want to watch this new web show on PIC.tv. It starts tomorrow (May 26) … Check it out:

Show description:

Los Americans is the story of a modern, affluent, suburban Mexican-American family living in the United States. The Valenzuela family is totally assimilated in U.S. American culture, and that’s the way the patriarch, Leandro Valenzuela, or “Lee” as Leandro prefers to be called, likes it. He’s moved on from speaking Spanish and the ways of the old country. As he proudly says, “We’re not Mexicans. Mexicans live in Mexico. We’re Americans.”

Lee is right in that he and his family will face many of the problems and challenges all Americans face, that all human beings face – unemployment, homelessness, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, abortion, immigration, childhood obesity and others. But Lee will also face another problem in that he has forgotten his native language and moved away from his culture, ultimately losing part of who he is and where he comes from, and he will learn that maybe this is not such a good thing. Welcome to a story about real Americans… Los Americans.

The cast of Los Americans

What do you think?

Links:

Watch the show online and find out more at PIC.Tv/LosAmericans
Los Americans on Twitter

Pollo Campero & Lakeforest Mall

We went to Pollo Campero for the first time in El Salvador. Since then, my only taste of it has been from buckets of cold chicken smuggled on Taca flights brought by visiting family.

(Fun fact: Carlos’s sister used to work at a Pollo Campero in El Salvador.)

I knew that the fast food Guatemalan chicken restaurants had been popping up in the United States for quite awhile but I just didn’t get around to visiting one until last weekend. The Lakeforest Mall location in Gaithersburg, Maryland has been open for several years.

Now, I was born and raised in Montgomery County, (or MoCo as it’s called by unassuming non-Spanish speakers who think that sounds cool.)

Lakeforest Mall is where my mother took us for back-to-school shopping – It’s across the street from the townhouses I lived in for the first year of my life. It’s where I skipped class and went to watch Jackie Chan movies, (there used to be a theater where the food court is now.) … Lakeforest Mall is 5 minutes down the street from where I met Carlos and it’s where Carlos and I spent time walking around as novios… In other words, it’s a familiar place – so when I heard rumors that Lakeforest Mall had become “ghetto” – I wanted to check it out.

(“Ghetto” – not my word, by the way, in case anyone out there is offended – I’m quoting.)

Anyway, visiting Pollo Campero was a good enough excuse for me. Off to Lakeforest Mall, pues.

So first we eat. Honestly, I can’t even remember what Pollo Campero tasted like in El Salvador, so I can’t compare them. The chicken was spicy and really good. The horchata was good though slightly watered down. The platanos were okay, (A little too ripe for my personal tastes and I prefer mine cut differently – that’s just me being picky though.)

The yuca frita dipped in this spicy Campero sauce was awesome. I will definitely go back for that.

I also liked the decor of the restaurant. This Spanglish sign was the best. “Flavor you can’t CAMPERO” – get it? … Clever.

And a little educational Latino pride never hurt.

Now, as for Lakeforest Mall itself – is it “ghetto”? In my opinion, not at all. It was clean, and though some high-end stores have been replaced, the quality and selection are still good. Maybe it isn’t as beautiful as it once was, (I remember there being fountains but they were turned off), but it’s still a nice mall.

So, what has changed the most? … The demographics of the shoppers. It felt almost like being in Miami again – the shoppers at the mall were an obvious Latino majority. This is drastically different from just 10 years ago, and worlds different from 20 years ago.

I tried to look at this from a gringa point-of-view. My conclusion is that maybe “ghetto” is just a code word that some people use when they really mean “there are more brown people than white people and that scares me.”

So, here’s the deal. The gringos who are now uncomfortable shopping at Lakeforest Mall, you can drive on over to Montgomery Mall instead.

As for me – Yo me quedo aquí…Pass the yuca frita.

Is Gringo offensive?

I use the word “gringa” to describe myself – knowing that some people are uncomfortable with the word. I’ve simply found it to be the best description of who I am. To me, its meaning is a non-native Spanish speaker, (or one who doesn’t speak Spanish at all.) It helps me identify myself as non-Latina, but someone with enough interest in the language and culture to have learned the word and have a sense of humor about it.

Some claim that the word “gringo” has negative connotations due to the way this word entered the lexicon. There is an urban legend that says the Mexican Army told American soldiers to leave the country saying, “Green – GO! [home]” (green for the color of their uniforms.) There is no proof that this is actually true. (Read other etymological possibilities here.)

I don’t like the words “White” or “Caucasian” because of the focus on skin color. I prefer not to use Anglo because it isn’t descriptive enough. I also avoid using “American” or “Americana” – because those from Canada, Mexico, Central America and South America are all “Americans” too. (Some even dislike that the United States has co-opted this word for its citizens, but calling oneself a “United Statesian” is awkward.)

And so this is why I use the word “gringa” and feel that it doesn’t have a bad connotation unless used in certain contexts.

Not everyone agrees with me. Recently columnist Daisy Hernandez, (co-editor of Colonize This! Young Women on Today’s Feminism), used the word “gringo” in what I would consider “appropriate context” – as a result there has been quite a controversy.

Read what happened on NPR, and come back to weigh in. What do you think? Should she have avoided use of the word, or was it appropriate?

Discuss in comments.

(Thanks to Aisha for sending me the link to this news story.)