Sisters, Strangers & Starting Over

Book Review: What happens when a niece you’ve never met before shows up on your doorstep needing to be taken in, and the ensuing turmoil of painful memories of a lost sister and a life disrupted threatens to destroy your marriage?

Sisters, Strangers and Starting Over, is the second book I’ve read by Belinda Acosta. Like her first book, (Damas, Dramas and Ana Ruiz), Acosta’s talent is in drawing out each character’s deepest thoughts to show the motives behind their behavior, so that the reader feels immense empathy. Also, when it comes to writing about marriage, I rarely see myself and my husband in fictional characters but Acosta completely nails it.

The unapologetic Spanglish writing style she uses is a treat for English/Spanish bilinguals and the other thing I absolutely loved about this book was that the couple reflects the changing face of families today in the United States. (The husband in the story is Anglo and the wife is Latina. How many of you who married gringos can relate to having a name like “Beatriz Sanchez-Milligan”?)

The secret ingredient in my kitchen is love

I love to cook. I love it because it fully engages all my senses and allows me to be creative while doing something practical to care for mi familia. I love the diversity of colors, textures, scents, tastes – the memories it conjures and creates.

My only problem is that I often used to stain my shirts. After I ruined much of my wardrobe, my husband asked Suegra to make me an apron.

Here is something nice I have to say about mi Suegra – she is a very talented seamstress, (and she’s completely self-taught!) She can make anything imaginable, from the sweetest little dresses for baby girls to silly Halloween costumes for mis niños – and when she’s not living with us, I realize what a useful skill it is as I haphazardly repair sofa pillows myself with crooked, child-ish stitches.

My favorite thing she ever made for me is my apron. She takes a lot of pride in her work and she took the time to embroider it in the traditional Salvadoran style. Salvadoran folk art contains colorful images of familiar things – houses, flowers, birds, and animals.

I wanted to take a photo of my apron to show you, so I put the camera on the counter top and set the timer.

I always take more than one photo just in case. I set the camera up again and while my husband has been known to run into the kitchen and steal bites of food before dinner is ready, this time my husband ran in to steal a besito.

I don’t usually post photos of myself or my husband, and especially one so intimate, (¡Qué escándalo! ji ji ji…) but this photo makes me happy and I wanted to spread the love.

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
– Harriet Van Horne

Yo soy ese romántico, Yo soy ese lunático

What do you do when you get a craving for birthday cake, but there are no family birthdays on this month’s calendar? You celebrate an un-birthday.

When I called my husband and asked him to pick up a birthday cake, (yellow with white icing, please), on his way home, he obliged. Actually, he more than obliged. He took the opportunity to be muy romántico.

Saying that word, (“romántico”), reminds me of the first Spanish language album I bought. It was 1995, which makes me around 16 years old. The album was “Vida” by La Mafia. Who knows why I picked it up but I remember listening to it on repeat, with the lyrics insert spread before me on the carpet. I especially loved the song “Yo soy ese romántico” because it was one of the few songs I understood all the words to.

“Yo soy ese romántico
Yo soy ese lunático
Que pinta corazones
con tu nombre
Por toda la cuidad
Yo soy ese romántico
Yo soy ese lunático
Que llama cada noche
Que te dice que te ama de verdad.”

Yo Soy Ese Romántico/La Mafia

I remember my love sick sighs, dreaming of meeting a guy who would be as romantic as the one in the song.

I guess sometimes dreams come true.

I <3 Miami

Maybe I’m romanticizing it since I was only there for a couple days, but I really fell in love with Miami. I don’t know if it’s the kind of place I could live in year round. I’m an East Coast girl at heart. I need my change of seasons, my autumn leaves. I need the smell of fresh cut grass in the summer time… but going tropical felt good at least for a little while.

I loved the art deco architecture, the rustle of palm trees, the turquoise blue of the ocean, hearing Spanish everywhere we went, the adorable casitas, the couples dancing to the salsa version of Coldplay’s song, “Clocks“, the taxi drivers hanging out their windows and calling out piropos to pretty girls, mojitos, learning how to run in tacones, guava cupcakes, and most of all, the diverse group of amazing women who I now call mis amigas.

Going to Miami was life changing in ways I never expected, and probably in ways I have yet to see.

Those who were there with me may know that I argued on and off with my husband via text message almost the entire two days. This made me feel vergüenza, because I know what it looks like from the outside looking in. Most people like to keep up the appearance that their marriage is perfect, but sometimes there is no hiding the truth.

I felt lucky that despite my shyness, I bonded so quickly to all of the girls and that I was able to open up to them. Many of them gave me good advice, some simply a listening ear and a knowing smile. Marriage isn’t easy and mine is no exception. In fact, bi-cultural marriages tend to be even more difficult.

In the end, my husband and I came to a major turning point as individuals and as a couple. My husband was forced to realize that his celos is a result of his own insecurity and I was able to fly free long enough to realize that living like a pajarito in a cage of gold, is not how I want to live. Changing won’t be easy, but we had a very difficult heart-to-heart and our marriage has weathered another storm.


Lights go out and I can’t be saved
Tides that I tried to swim against
You’ve put me down upon my knees
Oh I beg, I beg and plead, singing…

Confusion never stops,
Closing walls and ticking clocks,
Gonna come back and take you home,
I could not stop, that you now know, singing,
Come out upon my seas,
Curse missed opportunities…

And nothing else compares
Oh no nothing else compares
And nothing else compares

You are, Home, home,
Where I wanted to go…

-Coldplay/Clocks

Disclosure: General Mills paid for my trip to Miami for their Qué Rica Vida media event. I received no compensation, monetary or otherwise, for writing about the event. All opinions expressed are my own.

Family vs. Familia

As you know, my mother-in-law and I don’t have the best relationship. The biggest bone of contention has been the living arrangements. Growing up, I imagined myself with a husband and two kids, maybe a dog, but in my perfect little Anglo world, I never considered that I’d have a mother-in-law living with me, too. In-laws and grandparents are supposed to live in their own house, usually a few states away – not down the hallway. Random uncles and cousins also are not supposed to “visit” for weeks or months at a time. When relatives visit, it’s supposed to be for a few days and they’re supposed to use a hotel – That is what my culture told me, anyway.

Well, in Latino culture, which I married into, “family” is not limited to Mom, Dad, Son and Daughter. Besides Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, (not to mention half-siblings in some cases), there’s Grandmother, Grandfather, uncles and aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins and more cousins, not to mention everyone’s in-laws. If that isn’t enough family for you, there are Godparents, and other non-blood related people who get the honorary privilege of being called “familia.”

I’ve become convinced that if Anglos have a “family tree” – Latinos have a “family forest.”

And so for years I miserably asked myself the question, “Why does my mother-in-law want to live with us?” – but I should have been asking “Why would she NOT want to live with us?” Just as much as my culture taught me that this is a strange, uncomfortable living arrangement, hers taught her that this is completely normal and so my resistance to it was incomprehensible, and even deeply hurtful.

This does not excuse any of my mother-in-laws many (many!) faults, but I feel almost like a Zen monk reaching enlightenment for all of this to make sense after so many years – and not just make sense, but to be okay about it.

In my heart of hearts, sometimes I wish I had been able to live my married life in a normal Anglo household, but I would have missed out on so much, and so would my children. My Spanish would not be near as good as it is if I didn’t have to communicate with my non-English speaking mother-in-law on a daily basis. I never would have learned how to pat a tortilla back-and-forth between my palms. I never would have heard the various childhood stories about my husband that she tells every now and then. I never would have gotten a glimpse into the psychology of what made my husband who he is due to her mothering, (the good and the bad.)

My children would never have heard silly folk songs like “Los Pollitos Dicen” – they would have only known of the Tooth Fairy and not of the Latin American equivalent, “Ratóncito Pérez”, (though my husband insists when he was a child, they were too poor to pay him for his teeth so he didn’t know of Ratóncito Pérez either.) My children never would have tasted the mangoes that their grandmother buys, which they love and I hate.

Now looking back, I realize that though my mother-in-law has caused her fair share of discord and misery at times, she also enriched our lives. I’m sure there will be days when it will be hard to remember that, days when I find cilantro leaves littering the kitchen floor that I just swept and mopped, days when I’m trying to write and she has a telenovela on in the living room at maximum volume, but in the end, I guess familia is what you make of it.

(Image source)

¿De qué tienes miedo tú?

Last week I got an unexpected invitation to an event in Miami which will be at the end of May. I never in a million years thought that my husband would let me go, but I mentioned it to him anyway. He gave me the expected answer of “No y no!” … It’s funny how I feel unappreciated here at home sometimes, yet when there’s any possibility of me going away for a day or two, the family acts as if the entire household would collapse in my absence.

After a day or two my husband couldn’t take any more of my quiet disappointment and he relented. He said I can go! For those of you with machos protectivos, tú sabes que esto es un BIG DEAL.

So I went from deep disappointment to absolute joy within minutes, but it didn’t take long for the anxiety to set in. Now I was SCARED. Why would I be scared to go? There are many reasons. For a shy person, taking this trip is stepping out of my comfort zone in a million ways.

So, that’s how I had been feeling over the weekend. SCARED. Excited, but scared.

Well, yesterday I went to Mass and the homily that the Padre gave was about “miedo” (fear). He said some rather inspiring things. The one quote I latched on to was “Viva tu vida sin miedo.” (Live your life without fear). The “Viva tu vida” is rather catchy in Spanish.

Of course, I can’t even have a religious experience without interruption. The Padre turns to the congregation and says, after a dramatic pause, ¿De qué tienes miedo tú? (Of what are YOU afraid of?)

There was silence as people pondered the question… and then, from the back of the church, a man’s voice with a very strong Mexican accent replies to the rhetorical question…

“La migra!”

There was quite a bit of laughter and it took awhile for it to die down so the Padre could go on with the message but the Padre seemed to have a sense of humor about it.

You know you married a Salvadoran when…

Okay, bear with me on this one. If you aren’t married to a Salvadoran, or at least know one well, this won’t amuse you. For those of you familiar with the ways of Salvatruchos, read on…

You know you’re Married to a Salvadoran when…

• You have a machete in the closet

• You know what “puchica” means

• You celebrate National Pupusa Day on the 2nd Sunday of November

• You can pronounce “Chalatenango” and “Zacatecoluca”

• You know that a “guanaco” is not just a South American llama

• You think Pollo Campero is better than KFC

• You’ve come to think that pointing at things with your lips instead of your finger is normal

• You’ve drank soda from a plastic bag

• You’ve rarely seen your spouse without “chanclas” in the house

• You don’t bother buying a swimsuit anymore and just swim in your clothes

• You try to scare your kids with stories of Cipitío and La Sihuanaba

• People have asked if your spouse is in MS-13 as a joke, but you could tell they were a little worried

• When your spouse’s relatives say they want to “visit”, you know they’re moving in