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 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. 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 are also common. I definitely felt the need to up my game while in El Salvador. With all the women walking around looking like that, the casual tourist look wasn’t cutting it. I started carrying a big purse instead of the backpack, plucked my eyebrows a little 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.

Niña Malcriada

I’m in a waiting room surrounded by quiet gringos. All of us do our best to spread out, to give each other as much personal space as possible. We stare at the TV in the uppermost corner of the room, flip through magazines, or play with our cellphones. We don’t talk.

The automatic doors whoosh open and a Latino family comes in. A father, a mother, two young daughters. They are speaking at a normal indoor volume, but not in the hushed tones of people who don’t want to be overheard. They’re speaking Spanish. They glance around the room, even making eye contact with me, before continuing on, unaware that I understand every word of what they’re saying.

I hold my magazine a little higher to hide my smile.

After signing-in with the receptionist, the husband and wife discuss who will go back to see the doctor with the youngest daughter and who will wait in the waiting room with the older daughter. The wife seems to be a good ten years younger than the husband. She rakes her fingers through her hair while snapping her gum. She adjusts her big sunglasses on top of her head and checks each ear to see that her jewelry is still there. She plays with her cellphone, twists the shiny ring on her finger, and then pulls out a makeup bag from her purse – she ignores the children. The husband, a tall, handsome man with wide shoulders and salt-and-pepper hair, tends to their daughters. The little girls ask their father for a snack and it is he who opens the diaper bag and gives them one while his wife, with her legs crossed just-so, touches up her nail polish.

The family’s surname is called. The father stands, hefts the little girl into his arms, and walks dutifully through the door that the nurse holds open. The wife blows on her nails and looks bored.

The older daughter sits across the row from her mother. She holds a plastic toy horse in her hands. The mane and tail are hopelessly tangled. The little girl puts her arms down at her sides – opens her hand and drops the toy horse onto the linoleum floor. Some in the waiting room look up to see what caused the clatter and then look away. The mother puts her makeup bag back into her purse and then pulls her cellphone from the pocket of her tight white jeans with careful fingers, so as not to ruin the fresh polish.

The little girl lets her whole body go limp, and slides from the chair to the floor, her dress getting caught up on the seat and showing her underwear. I smile at her. She stares at me, hard, neither smiling or frowning. Her eyes are a warm fiery brown, and her black curls are as hopelessly tangled as the mane of her toy horse.

She turns to her mother.

“Mamá, yo quiero un juguito,” she says. The mother says nothing in response to her request for juice.
“Mamá, yo quiero un juguito,” she repeats, this time standing and patting the diaper bag which held the snack her father had gotten her earlier.

“No,” the mother answers, without explanation.
“Porqué no, Mamá? Tengo sed. Quiero un juguito de la bolsa, Aquí traemos—”
“No,” the mother answers again, as she types a text into her cellphone and shakes her leg impatiently.
The little girl stomps her foot, crosses her arms over her chest and then slides back down to the floor.
She mumbles in Spanish that she wants her father to come back because he would give her a juice.

The mother tells her to be quiet.

The girl is quiet… but only for a moment. She looks around the room, at all the gringo faces. In accented but very clear English she tells her mother, “I hate you! … and you’re ugly!”

The gringo faces look up at the little girl and her mother, surprised, amused. The mother mumbles in Spanish – calls her “malcriada.”

The little girl smiles in satisfaction, picks up her toy horse, and tries to work her fingers through the tangles in its hair.

Image source: Melissa Venable

Miami, regresaré!

(Today is Spanish Friday so the following post is en español. Don’t speak Spanish? No problema! Just scroll down to the English translation below.)

Por tres días no puedo parar de sonreir. ¿Quieres saber por qué? Porque recibí una invitación de Telemundo por venir a Miami para los Billboard Latin Music Awards!

Me cuesta mucho buscar las palabras por explicar cómo me siento yo ahorita – (¡aún en inglés!) … Es casi el mismo sentido que uno siente cuándo está enamorado. No puedo pensar en nada salvo los Billboard Latin Music Awards. No tengo nada de hambre, no tengo sueño – sólo tengo mis ensueños de caminar en la carpeta roja con un vestidito super lindo, la playa que me recuerda mucho, la música, mis amigas, y estar rodeada de hispanohablantes y la cultura Latina – Miami y este evento son nada menos que el paraíso!

¿Y sabes qué? Espinoza Paz está nominado en varias categorías! Ay mi madre! Sí está mi Espinoza, y sí tengo el chance de conocerlo cara a cara – me muero! (Pero me muero feliz!)

La unica cosa es que quiero llevar Carlos conmigo. Él tiene muchos años trabajando fuerte sin irse en vacaciónes y lo merece mucho. Carlos no conoce Miami y ya sé que va a enamorar de la ciudad como yo lo hice el año pasado. Entonces, estoy buscando más trabajo, (escribiendo), y Carlos buscando trabajo en cortar grama o cualquier cosa que puede encontrar fuera de su trabajo regular, para que ahorramos un poco extra por comprar el boleto que necesita.

Así que, a trabajar voy, mis amigos! … Y Miami, mi amor, regresaré muy pronto!

Te dejo con un video: Armada Latina – Cypress Hill featuring Pitbull and Marc Anthony.

Pitbull está tan lindo y chistoso en este video. Chécalo!


For three days I haven’t been able to stop smiling. Want to know why? Because I received an invitation from Telemundo to come to Miami for the Billboard Latin Music Awards!

It’s difficult for me to find the words to explain how I feel right now – (even in English!) … It’s almost the same feeling one feels when they’re in love. I can’t think of anything except the Billboard Latin Music Awards. I’m not hungry, I’m not tired – I just have my daydreams about walking on the red carpet dressed in a super cute gown, the beautiful beach I often think of, the music, my friends, and being surrounded by Spanish speakers and the Latin culture – Miami and this event are nothing less than paradise!

And guess what? Espinoza Paz is nominated in various categories! If my Espinoza is there, and if I have the chance to meet him face-to-face – I will die! (But I’ll die happy!)

The only thing is that I want to bring Carlos with me. He has spent a lot of years working hard without going on a single vacation and he really deserves it. Carlos has never been to Miami and I know he’ll fall in love with the city like I did last year. So, I’m looking for more work, (writing), and Carlos is looking for more work, cutting grass or whatever he can find outside his regular work, so we can save a little extra that we need to buy his ticket.

So then, back to work I go, my friends! … And Miami, my love, I’m coming back real soon!

I leave you with a video: Armada Latina – Cypress Hill featuring Pitbull and Marc Anthony.

Pitbull is so cute and funny in this video. Check it out!


Did you participate in Spanish Friday? Leave your link in comments!
Participaste en Spanish Friday? Deja tu link en comentarios!

A Magical Trip To Mexico – (a story by my 9 year old)

I don’t know what makes me happier – the fact that my 9 year old is writing stories, or the fact that they contain a little Latin sabor.

At school they’ve been practicing for a writing assessment, and my son brought home some of his stories.

I may be biased, but I think he shows promise. I gave him a hug and told him I loved his stories.

“Writing must be in the blood!” I said proudly. Carlos smacked his forehead.
“I guess we’ll have to build an addition onto the house so he can live with us forever then,” he said.

Hee hee…

Anyway, here is his entire story transcribed. I corrected spelling and some punctuation but everything else is as he wrote it.

A Magical Trip To Mexico
by J. López (9 years old)

I was wanting to go to Mexico with my family. I snapped my fingers and I was there. I decided we should make a party. My family came along. We had a lot of snacks. The snacks were salsa, chips and much more. We even had a confetti machine.

The music was very good. Now it’s time to hit the piñata. The piñata was a donkey and was purple, green and red. Everyone hit the piñata – nothing came out. Now it was my turn. I hit the piñata – Whack! Whack! The donkey broke in half. All the sweets fell on the ground. There were red, blue, yellow, and green candy. I put so many in my pockets that I thought it might explode.

They had big hats. They were colorful. Some were black – I tried them on – way too big. I tried the colorful ones – too small. Then I saw a black and white hat that looked like a mariachi hat. I tried it on – just right. Then I went to the costume room. Next I looked for a suit that would match my hat. I saw a suit that was just right. I tried it – it was great.

When I came out of the dressing room I saw a mariachi band on the stage, so I went back to the costume room. I saw a chest full of instruments. I saw a blue guitar. It looked sapphire blue. I took it. I went back onto the stage and played with them. Then I tripped and I was back in my room. In my pocket I found a piece of confetti. I wondered if I really went to Mexico or if it was a dream.

The End