The Headshake

I’m over it. I really am… but when it happened yesterday I wasn’t okay. At first my feelings were hurt… After about an hour of that, I got angry. I’m slowly letting that go today – but I dislike that a 10 second interaction I didn’t ask for can waste my time and energy in this way.

It’s happened before – the headshake. (I wonder if other interracial couples have encountered it?)

What is “The Headshake?” – It is, in my own experience, something older white males do when they see a white woman with a non-white man.

Carlos has never seen the headshake. The headshake is always targeted at me, as if older white males have the right, the authority, or even the duty, to let me know that they disapprove of my relationship. Funny, they don’t have the cojones to let Carlos know they disapprove. They may be ignorant but they aren’t stupid. Apparently they don’t want to get their ass kicked.

This is how it happens. Carlos and I will be in a public place – usually shopping. We’re holding hands. An older white male will make eye contact with me, and I will feel cold all of a sudden, because this isn’t the kind of eye contact that precedes a smile, nor is it a simple curious glance from a fellow human being. The stare is one that makes me feel immediately ill because the negative energy is palpable. And then, keeping eye contact, the man will shake his head as if chastising a naughty child.

Carlos will turn to see what I’m looking at – the man will look away … usually even walk away – disappearing within seconds. Again, where are your cojones? If you’ve got something to say, say it to my husband’s face… In fact, say it to my face because though I usually would promote a non-violent solution, if you catch me on the wrong day, I have no qualms about taking off my earrings and setting things straight if needs be.

So here is my question – If you’re an interracial couple, or an otherwise “non-traditional” couple, have you ever experienced “The Headshake?” If you have, how did you respond? Do you think such an individual should be confronted or ignored?

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.

“Dirty Latino” Stereotype? Chale!

“…results of a new study [by Univision] called “Why Latinos Look So Good”…revealed [that] 34% of Latino men shower twice a day vs. 16% of non-Latino men. Now, that statistic can be partly explained by the fact that Latinos predominantly live in warmer areas of the country (mainly the South and Southwest) or that their line of work may require a second shower in a day. But who cares why? All I hear is ka-ching! Calling all marketers of soap, body wash, deodorant, body lotion, after-shave, face cream, etc… ” – Chiqui Cartagena

My husband, Carlos, takes at least two showers a day – sometimes three, even in the winter time and even on weekends when he hasn’t gone to work. Our older son is the same… our youngest son is another story. He forgets to shower if we don’t remind him, but I think he’s just being a typical little boy at this point.

Carlos is also obsessive about his teeth. He’s a dental hygienist’s dream-come-true. Who else can honestly answer “yes” to the dreaded question, “Do you remember to floss daily?” – (Carlos does!) … The products he requires for regular maintenance may even out number mine; Soap, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, deodorant, body spray, body lotion, eye drops, hair gel, face lotion, foot cream, toothpaste, mouthwash… believe it or not, the list goes on.

Just a few of Carlos's products.

When women have complained to me in the past about how their husbands leave stinky socks lying around and such, I never knew how to respond. “Don’t you hate that?” they’d say – but I’m more likely to leave a pile of dirty laundry on the floor than Carlos is. His side of the closet? Neat and tidy – Even his T-shirts are on hangars. My side of the closet? A complete disaster – piles of clothing, not even folded properly. It’s the same story with shoes. Carlos has sneakers which are many years old but look brand new. He can’t understand how I manage to beat my shoes up the way I do… (I’m not so sure either to be honest.)

Carlos's side of the closet.

My side of the closet.

Carlos’s cleanliness extends beyond the home and to his vehicle. It may be the last $5 he has in his pocket, but if his car looks dirty, he brings it to the car wash. I remember when the kids were little they were scared to drop so much as a Cheerio in Daddy’s car. (My car on the other hand, probably still has a Cheerio or two crushed into the carpet from their toddler days. My kids are 12 and 9, by the way.)

Over the years I decided that maybe because Carlos came from an impoverished childhood, he just values his belongings more than I do. I also decided that he is just a perfectionist, which has its benefits. (Though the disadvantage is when he tries to force his standards of perfection on very imperfect, laid-back me!)

Now that I come upon this study, I wonder, is this obsessive grooming/cleanliness a Latino male thing? Is it cultural? What do you think?

Penqueadores

Penquear – (origin Caliche) To spank/hit/slap, golpear

We had finished eating and our youngest son had already run off to play. Carlos, our older son, Suegra and I sat around the table, our plates pushed away, and talked for awhile as we usually do.

Carlos had a small argument with one of the guys at work and was telling us about what happened. The fact that the co-worker was Mexican really didn’t have anything to do with the conversation except to identify which guy Carlos was talking about – but you can’t say “mexicano” around Suegra without her getting started. Like many older people, she has some “preconceived notions” which aren’t malicious so much as misinformed. Of course she pipes up with the usual, “Así son los mexicanos, pues.”

Carlos gives me a look that means I should bite my tongue, but I can’t keep quiet.

“No puedes juzgar a todos los mexicanos así. Tengo un montón de amigos mexicanos y son muy buena gente.” I say.

Suegra shakes her head. We go back and forth a few times. Things are getting a little heated.

“Los hombres mexicanos son muy penqueadores!” she says, as if that settles it.

I start to tell her it’s not true of all Mexican men, and that Salvadoran men have their own reputation as well, but she interrupts, as is her way.

“Y si yo estuviera una joven, jamás me voy a salir con un mexicano!”

This conversation is going no where, so I decide to tease her.

“Y si está bien meloso?”
“De eso miel, no voy a comer!” she says.
“Y si está bien guapo?” I ask.
She looks at me as if I’m an idiot.
“Los mexicanos no son guapos, vos!” she says as if it’s common sense. (Forgetting that I know for a fact she has a crush on Vicente Fernandez.)

I catch Carlos’s eye and decide not to push it further. Insisting that there are plenty of mexicanos guapos will only make him celoso and cause problems for me. The table falls quiet since I fail to return fire, and then our twelve year old, who we had forgotten was sitting there, speaks up.

“Huh,” he says, “I didn’t know Mexicans like to spank people… that’s weird.”

Because he says this in English, Suegra has no idea what’s going on when I start laughing. Carlos also isn’t sure what’s so funny until I explain. Our son managed to pick up on the word “penquear” within the word “penqueadores” – but his only reference for this word is the threat of a spanking, as in, “Te voy a penquear.” Because he doesn’t know the word out of this context, he didn’t realize it could mean “hit” or “slap.”

Of course I set him straight. I explain the word “penquear” and I also tell him you can’t judge people based on stereotypes. My son says, “Of course. I already know that!” …and I knew he did, but I just wanted to make sure. Maybe I won’t convince Suegra, but my children will know better.

Latinos & Gringas Gorditas

White guy #1: You know who likes to go with Mexicans? Fat white girls! It’s always the fat ones who-
Carlos: Hey.
White guy #1: What?
Carlos: Do me a favor.
White guy #1: Yeah?
Carlos: Shut the fuck up. {walks away}
White guy #1: Damn, what the hell’s his problem?
White guy #2: You’re a dumbass. His wife is white.
{awkward silence}
White guy #1: But I wasn’t sayin’ nothin – I just meant it’s like… a stereotype.

A stereotype – and like any stereotype, it’s mostly hurtful bigotry, but with a little truth mixed in – (Sort of like Fruit Punch with 10% real juice.)

“Gringas Gorditas” (Fat white girls), do not disproportionately pair up with Latino men. I can say anecdotally that among the gringas I know who are with Latino men, it’s an even split 50/50 with half being flacas (thin) and the other half being gorditas (chubby or fat.)

I’m one of the gorditas, and I’ve come up against a lot of ignorant assumptions about my marriage. First of all, I did not “settle” for my husband because I couldn’t “get a white guy”. White guys were never on my radar in the first place, maybe due to a childhood crush on Ricky Ricardo – who knows.

Second of all, my husband did not choose me just to get a Greencard, and nor am I a “status symbol” for him.

This stereotype about Latinos and gringas gorditas is doubly damaging because not only does it literally weigh my worth as a woman in pounds, it casts an ugly light on interracial marriage – as if our marriage is somehow less valid.

Here’s some breaking news: Interracial couples fall in love for all the complicated and simple reasons “same race” couples fall in love. In the end, it comes down to attraction – not just physical, (though biologically that can’t much be helped), but spiritual connection, emotional attachment, and shared experiences all play a role.

Now for the 10% juice: Culturally speaking, Latino men are typically more accepting, and even desiring, of a thicker figure on a woman, than are Anglo men. (Source: Study on Race/Ethnicity Body Type Preferences)

(Necessary Disclaimer: That, of course, is a generality that does not apply to all Latino men or all Anglo men. Individual results may vary.)

The real question in my mind is what is the fascination with this stereotype? Why all the scrutiny over my curves and his color? Yes, I’m a gringa gordita and yes, he is Latino – ¿Y qué? (So what?)

“It is not that love is blind. It is that love sees with a painter’s eye, finding the essence that renders all else background.” – Robert Brault

Race & Reality

I just finished reading Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity by Guy P. Harrison.

This was definitely not light, relaxing reading but I’m happy that I pushed through and read it.

Book Description:

“Drawing on a wide variety of evidence – the hard data from fossils and DNA, interviews with the victims of racism, and personal experiences – Harrison dismantles the ‘race’ concept, bolt by bolt. Exposing race as a social illusion and political tool – rather than a biological reality – Harrison forces the reader to consider how they think about ‘other folk.’ Anthropologists have no use for the race concept, and neither should educated citizens.” -Cameron M. Smith, PhD, Department of Anthropology, Portland State University

Even if you already consider yourself educated and enlightened, reading this book will open your eyes in new ways. You won’t be able to look at people, race or society the same ever again. (Remember, we’re talking about race here – not culture. Very different. The craziness I observe in my own household on a daily basis is proof enough to me that cultural differences exist!)

The author argues that we all came out of Africa and we are one human race – that any categories based on hair type, skin color, facial features, etc – are simply man-made… By the time I finished reading this book I felt simultaneously freed…and trapped. I see myself as raceless, but this just isn’t practical in the society we live in.

Imagine renewing my driver’s license at the DMV. I fill out the form, I come to the race boxes – decide to leave them blank because they seem silly and irrelevant. I turn in my form.

“Ma’am, you didn’t check a box for race.”
“I know. I don’t want to. I don’t believe in races.”
“Yes ma’am, that’s real cute, but you have to choose one. I can’t process an incomplete form…”
I sigh, take my pen in hand, and check off a race.
“Hmm… I suppose this one is most accurate…”
I hand the form back to the DMV clerk who looks it over. Her satisfied smile at my compliance soon turns to a frown.
“African-American?!”

So, I don’t think race will be disappearing any time soon – and maybe it would be irresponsible of me to pretend our world doesn’t see these man-made boxes, regardless of what I personally feel. I have two sons who are struggling with their identity, and answering their questions with a cheerful, “Race doesn’t exist”, is not going to help them sort things out.

Just yesterday a classmate approached my older son and said, “Are you Mexican?” … My son, (having picked up on his father’s annoyance at constantly being incorrectly labeled Mexican instead of Latino or Salvadoran), replied with a simple, curt, “No.”

I told him that he should have used the opportunity to educate his classmate, but I wonder if that was fair of me. As a “white” girl amongst other “white” kids, I never had to explain myself. It must get annoying having to patiently tell people “what you are”. It must make one feel very “other”… and that’s never a good feeling, no matter how old you are – but especially in middle school.

The book, Race and Reality, re-printed a “Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage” which I think is empowering, not just for people who are traditionally considered “multi-racial” by today’s society – but for all of us. In the end, there is no pure race. We are all mixed and we are all human.

___

Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage:

I HAVE THE RIGHT…
Not to justify my existence in this world.
Not to keep the races separate within me.
Not to justify my ethnic legitimacy.
Not to be responsible for people’s discomfort with my physical or ethnic ambiguity.

I HAVE THE RIGHT…
To identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify.
To identify myself differently than how my parents identify me.
To identify myself differently than my brothers and sisters.
To identify myself differently in different situations.

I HAVE THE RIGHT…
To create a vocabulary to communicate about being multiracial or multi-ethnic.
To change my identity over my lifetime -and more than once.
To have loyalties and identification with more than one group of people.
To freely choose whom I befriend and love.

© Maria P. P. Root, PhD

Nachos & Border Amigos

American flags are out in full force this weekend – And thanks to Hurricane Earl passing off the coast, the red, white and blue, snapped proudly in the wind.

While I was taking photos, I noticed the juxtaposition of this flag and a sign that made me smile.

Okay, maybe I’m easily amused, but the way “NACHOS” is written up there, as if there is nothing more American than that, it made me happy.

Actually, if you’re interested to know, nachos have a good story behind them.

From Wikipedia: Nachos originated in the city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, just over the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, at a restaurant called the Victory Club, owned by Rodolfo De Los Santos. One day in 1943, the wives of ten to twelve U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Duncan in nearby Eagle Pass were in Piedras Negras on a shopping trip, and arrived at the restaurant after it had closed for the day. The maître d’, Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, invented a new snack for them with what little he had available in the kitchen: tortillas and cheese. Anaya cut the tortillas into triangles, added longhorn cheddar cheese, quickly heated them, and added sliced jalapeño peppers. He served the dish, calling it Nacho’s especiales – meaning something like “Nacho’s special dish” in Spanish.

Anaya went on to work at the Moderno Restaurant in Piedras Negras, which still uses the original recipe. He also opened his own restaurant, “Nacho’s Restaurant”, in Piedras Negras. Anaya’s original recipe was printed in the 1954 St. Anne’s Cookbook.

The popularity of the dish swiftly spread throughout Texas. The first known appearance of the word “nachos” in English dates to 1949, from the book A Taste of Texas. Waitress Carmen Rocha is credited with introducing the dish to Los Angeles at El Cholo Mexican restaurant in 1959.

So there you have it. Nachos may not have been invented without some hungry gringas and an ingenious Mexican. You see, gente? This is what can happen when we all try to get along.