Mixing Traditions for a Bicultural Christmas

(Free Gift Tag! Go ahead and print this image to attach to gifts for familia y amigos!)

(Free Gift Tag! Go ahead and print this image to attach to gifts for familia y amigos!)

Most of you know that I write for several websites each month. I usually share those links on the Latinaish Facebook Page, but I wanted to link this one up here for those who might not be on Facebook since this particular post is so relevant to my usual content on Latinaish. I also took the opportunity to make a bicultural/bilingual gift tag for your Christmas gifts (see above!) Feel free to print it out and use it!

Now for the post:

Mixing Traditions for a Bicultural Christmas

Fifteen years ago I married Carlos, a Salvadoran immigrant who spoke little English. Because we were young, pregnant, and poor at the time—instead of moving to our own place—I moved Carlos into my parents’ house where I was still living. From the outside it didn’t seem like the most ideal situation, but living with my English-speaking Anglo parents turned out to be a unique opportunity for Carlos to get a crash course in English and American culture.

Of course, living in such a situation made our diverse backgrounds that much more apparent—especially during holidays, and especially during Christmas…[READ MORE HERE]

Street Sounds of Soyapango

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. English translation is below!

Como escritora, me baso en la memoria de los sonidos del ambiente para llevarme de vuelta a otro lugar y tiempo. Cuando trabajo en una de mis novelas que se lleva a cabo en El Salvador, cierro los ojos y recuerdo lo que he oído.

Puedo oír el tráfico, los carros al ralentí, los bocinazos de los carros, los autobuses que pasan, y el chirrido de los frenos cuando hacen sus paradas.

Puedo oír las campanas del paletero, la voz cantarina de la mujer que vende quesadillas temprano en la mañana, los loros que hablan en los árboles, y baten sus alas verdes.

Puedo oír un aguacatero ladrando, una mujer barriendo la acera, los niños placticando en su camino a la escuela, los murmullos de un borracho caminando por la calle.

Puedo oír la lluvia a media tarde comenzando a caer – las gotas de lluvia caen gordas y lentas al principio, pero después hay un aguacero ensordecedor que ahoga todos los otros sonidos.

— Tu turno! Piensa en un momento y lugar. ¿Qué sonidos oyes tú?—

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

As a writer, I rely on the memory of ambient sounds to take me back to a different place and time. When I work on one of my novels that takes place in El Salvador, I close my eyes and remember what I heard.

I can hear the traffic, cars idling, cars honking their horns, buses passing by, and the screech of their brakes when they make their stops.

I can hear the ringing bells of the man pushing his ice cream cart, the singsong voice of the woman selling quesadillas early in the morning, the parrots talking in the trees and flapping their green wings.

I can hear a stray dog barking, a woman sweeping the walk, children chatting on their way to school, the mumblings of a drunk walking down the street.

I can hear a mid-afternoon rain begin to fall, the fat rain drops slow at first, and then a deafening downpour that drowns out all other sounds.

—Your turn! Think of a time and place. What sounds do you hear?—

Let America Be America Again

On Independence Day I always think of the Langston Hughes poem, “Let America Be America Again.” Hughes is one of my favorite poets – a visionary writer who was ahead of his time and created works that still resonate more than 50 years later.

This poem is often controversial and has been called unpatriotic by some – but I think that it reflects reality, told in an unapologetic, honest way. We are a nation that values chest thumping patriotism and fosters an attitude of superiority – a belief that we are the favored children of God and our nation is uniquely blessed as a result. I don’t subscribe to that school of thought. I believe that we can love the United States and be thankful for the freedoms we have while being truthful and vocal about its imperfections at the same time.

On this day I am thankful to live in a country that allows me to say this without fear of repercussions and I am hopeful that we will continue to create high expectations for ourselves, as individual citizens, and as a nation. May we all do our part to live up to the dream.

Image source: Brittney Bollay

Let America Be America Again

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Worldwide Culture Swap!

I was recently contacted by a French expat and mother living in Canada who told me about a free program she runs called Worldwide Culture Swap and I think you guys are going to love this!

The program’s purpose is to teach children about the diverse cultures and traditions around the world. The way this is done is by swapping packages which teach the recipients about the country you live in, (or the country you’re representing. So, as Salvadoran Americans, my family could choose to send a package with items from our area of the United States, or items that represent El Salvador.)

It is totally free to participate and already more than 2,000 packages have been exchanged around the world!

Worldwide Culture Swap is especially in need of Spanish-speaking countries right now, but everyone is welcome to sign up! Basically, once you sign up you’ll be put into a group with four other families in other countries. When you sign up, you’re agreeing to send each of those families a package containing items that teach about your culture, country and/or state, (check out some of the packages! – People are so creative with what they include!)

As much fun as it is to send packages, I’m sure kids get really excited to receive packages, too. That’s right – the other four families will each send YOU a package about their country/culture!

This is such a fun way to teach your kids about the world. I really can’t wait to sign up but I need to wait until I know for sure that we can afford to send 4 packages first. While the items inside don’t have to be fancy or expensive, international shipping isn’t cheap — so keep that in mind before signing up. (There is a Culture Swap between US States that is available as well which would cut down on shipping costs, but I want to do the worldwide one.)

Until we can do the Culture Swap, I’m planning on signing my kids up for their free Pen Pal Program. I had pen pals around the world and it was always exciting to get those special airmail envelopes in the mailbox.

Image source: Donovan Beeson

If you’re ready to sign up, or just want to check it out, visit the website for more information.

Special note to teachers – there is a Culture Swap for Schools as well!

Unintentional Metiche

Image source: ElMarto

I don’t really think of myself as a metiche but I find the conversations of strangers interesting, and at times amusing. As a writer, I consider it my work – yes! Puro trabajo! – to tune into what others are saying around me. It gives me a feel for the rhythm of dialogue, it even inspires story ideas…and sometimes, it’s just funny. Here are a few of the conversations I’ve overheard lately. (If you heard one that made you smile this past week, share it in comments!)

____

Location: In front of a food vendor stand at a Latino Festival

Anglo man, about 50 years old: {pointing to an elote loco} What kind of flavor does that have? Is it spicy?
Latina girl, about 8 years old: No, its sweet.
Anglo man: What do you call it?
Girl: Corn.

____

Location: 11th Street NW, Washington DC.

Middle-aged woman with heavy New York accent to young hunky bicycle cop: Oh, I’ve seen you around before. In fact, every time I seen you, I’ve said to myself, now there goes a healthy lookin’ man. Very healthy looking you are.

____

Location: DC METRO Redline to Shady Grove

College kid #1: Dude, I forgot to tell you, in Boston there’s no such thing as Happy Hour.
College kid #2: What? No way.
College kid #1: Seriously, it’s illegal to change the price of an alcoholic drink during different times of the day there.
College kid #2: Jesus Christ.
College kid #1: I know, man.

____

Location: Coffee shop in Northwest DC

Woman to little boy: Please, Conrad, calm down.
{kid screams}
Woman: Please?
{kid screams and stamps his foot}
Woman: {sigh}

____

Location: Park in Hagerstown Maryland

Latino man answering cellphone: ¿Qué onda, puto?

____

Location: A WalMart in northern Virginia

Anglo woman to Latino husband: Oh, we need more fideos.
Latino husband: What?
Anglo woman: We need more fideos.
Latino husband: Huh?
Anglo woman: FIDEOS! … Those! There! {pointing}
Latino husband: Which one?
Anglo woman: {grabs packet off the shelf} The soup with fideos – NOODLES!
Latino husband: Oh… noodles.

____

Churros, Cantinflas, and Immigration Reform

What in the world do those three topics have in common?

I wrote about them as a new weekly contributor to Fox News Latino. For those who didn’t know, I have been writing op-eds for them in the Lifestyle section for the past three weeks. (For those who didn’t even know a Latino division of Fox News existed, or for those who knew but have remained skeptical about the content – I encourage you to check it out and give it a chance. It is not what most people expect.)

If you missed my first three posts, here are the links:

Essay: Happy 100th Birthday, Cantinflas

The Hidden History of Churros

Opinion: Halt to deportations? Too little, too late

And in the future, check around on Fox News Latino on Thursdays or Fridays. That’s when my posts usually go up.

Thanks for your support, amigos! See you over there!

El Salvador – Tight Jeans & Inappropriate Head Massages

Despite the ominous title, te juro – we had an amazing time in El Salvador and I have a lot to share with you. This will be the first of several posts about our adventures. I haven’t really written for two weeks, except for the notes I kept in a small book during our travels. I hope writing is like riding a bicycle, (“Once you learn, you never forget”) – because at the moment I’m finding it difficult to put any of my thoughts and emotions into words.

So much happened in such a short time, I’m not even sure where to start. As soon as I stepped off the plane I was overwhelmed with an urgency to absorb everything – every scent, sight, taste, sound, detail. It’s impossible, of course, but I tried. There was so much I couldn’t capture with my camera, but there were solid rather than poetic reasons for that. In some places/situations, the risk of theft and drawing attention to ourselves was too great – other times I didn’t pull out the camera because I don’t like to make others uncomfortable.

As much as I tried to blend in, it wasn’t possible. At the San Salvador airport, Comalapa, the man who checked over our passports before granting entry, asked Carlos if the boys and I were all his children. I had my hair down to cover my face and wore sunglasses. Carlos told him that I was his wife. I removed my sunglasses so he could compare it to the passport photo and he charged me for a tourist visa. (Carlos and the boys didn’t have to pay even though they’re all U.S. Citizens, too.)

Everywhere we went, people stared completely sin pena. I realized that while gringas married to Latin American men are becoming increasingly common here in the U.S., it’s still something of a novelty in El Salvador. Maybe many people know of a friend or cousin who immigrated to los Uniteds and married a gringa, but, (perhaps due to lack of legal paperwork) – they don’t travel back to El Salvador on vacation. (Or they travel back and don’t bring the wife with them.) I didn’t see a single gringa/Salvadoran couple, (or any interracial/intercultural couple for that matter), the entire time we were there.

I also realized that using a backpack and chanclas definitely wasn’t helping me blend in. While generalities don’t apply to everyone, I’ll say that most women I saw in El Salvador, (especially in the malls) – carried big, fancy-looking purses and wore high heels. Some of the women could barely walk in their shoes. I watched one woman nearly fall down the escalator with her baby because of her stripper-esque platform heels, (her friend grabbed her arm and held onto her until she regained balance.) The women also wear jeans so tight from waist to ankle that I really have no idea how they fit into them, and form fitted tops as well. In El Salvador it doesn’t matter if you’re flaca, curvy, rellenita, or gorda – Tight clothes are what you wear. It was really freeing for me to see women my size and bigger who seemed to have no shame about their panzas. Not only did they have no shame, they seemed proud, walking belly first, head held high, with plenty of confidence that they were just as sexy as their slimmer friends. When it came to fashion, there was no attempt to hide or camouflage fat like women here in the United States do.

A pretty typical outfit for a young woman in El Salvador.

I noticed that heavy make-up and thinner eyebrows, (what I call “chola eyebrows”) are also common. I definitely felt the need to up my game while in El Salvador. With all the women walking around looking so hot, the casual tourist look wasn’t cutting it. I started carrying a big purse instead of the backpack, plucked my eyebrows a little thinner, (not totally chola, but thinner), and began putting on more eye make-up than I thought was decent for daytime. I felt this helped me blend in a little, but I refused to trade my chanclas and regular fitted jeans for high heels and skin-tight pants.

And it wasn’t just the women who looked nice. Most of the men, (again, especially in shopping malls and usually in the 15-30 age range), loved to wear name brand shirts, stylish jeans, (sometimes as tight as the women’s), and either name brand sneakers or pointy-toed shoes. The most popular hairstyle among young men was definitely the faux-hawk.

(Note: Again, this was what I saw in the malls of San Salvador. Out in the markets, on the streets, in areas outside of San Salvador, with older and more religious people – the fashion tended to be more conservative.)

We spent a lot of time walking around Metrocentro, a huge multi-level mall with indoor and outdoor shopping, kiosks, food court, movie theater and a “pasarela” (pedestrian walkway over a busy road) – to connect you to the other half of the mall. I was told that Metrocentro is the “poor people mall.” When I asked how the “poor people” could afford to look so trendy, I was told they prefer to wear name brand shoes and survive on beans and tortillas for breakfast. I don’t know how true that is, but that’s what I was told.

Pasarela to Metrocentro

Carlos and the boys wait while the vendor makes our minutas.

My crema soda flavored minuta was red and tasted spicy – I have no idea why.

In the malls there was an abundance of people trying to sell me cell phones or a weekend at a resort. For the first couple days I was very polite in my response – listening to the vendor’s pitch and then issuing a “no gracias” with a smile. This of course becomes exhausting and I realized why locals just keep walking and usually say nothing.

I admit, at first I thought Salvadorans were rude because they don’t say “excuse me” – I stuck out as a gringa for this reason alone. Walking through crowds I’d say, “Con permiso” and “Perdon” multiple times. Eventually I realized, the locals weren’t being rude, it’s just accepted that with this many people in a small area, you will get bumped and brushed, elbowed and stepped on, by strangers. It’s accepted that you can’t give everyone personal space, (Americans love their bubble of personal space but in El Salvador, be prepared for that bubble to be burst.) … No one says “excuse me” because it would be exhausting to apologize to every person you touched.

Most Salvadorans you encounter working in stores and restaurants provide excellent customer service. You’ll always be greeted warmly with a Buenos días/Buenas tardres/Buenas noches. If you say “gracias” – it will always be met with an “a la orden.” People will thank you for your patronage and wish you “Buen día” – and Carlos was often referred to as “caballero” – (gentleman.) In fact, there was one woman who was too friendly with Carlos and it made me very uncomfortable.

After a week in El Salvador, Carlos’s hair already needed a trim, so I insisted we stop somewhere to get him a haircut. We found a place in Metrocentro and went in to inquire. The cost of the haircut was $6 and apparently it included a massage that seemed, at least to this gringa, to be really inappropriate. You should have seen the way she was touching his head. I think she enjoyed it more than Carlos did. Carlos, to his credit, was very uncomfortable and told her several times that the massage wasn’t necessary. The boys and I sat watching in shock as the young woman massaged Carlos’s head for a good ten minutes. She looked at me while she was doing it, smiled slyly, and started laughing as she continued a conversation with Carlos, asking him if it felt good, etc. A friend later assured us that the massage is a normal part of the haircut and Carlos didn’t receive special treatment. I got over the jealousy after about 15 minutes but for the rest of the trip I teased Carlos saying it was only fair for me to go get my hair cut by a man.

A lot of time was spent absorbing all these cultural differences and then sorting out the resulting thoughts and emotions. Thankfully this time of adjustment didn’t cause me to shutdown the way it did last time I went to El Salvador. During our time there, I was quite often pensive, (as well as fighting a flu which locals insisted was “allergy to the climate”) – but I was always happy. It helped to know the boys, and even Carlos, were trying to make sense of everything right along with me.