Taking Opportunities When They Come

If there’s anything I’ve learned while starting this new activism journey, it’s that everyone must seize opportunities when they come. There’s no time to mull around about it. There’s urgency to everything happening around us. Activists live life in the fast lane. It seems like the perfect profession for those that love an adrenaline rush or love to be in the spotlight.

I wish I were that person.

Last week, I saw an article (here) where researchers found there is such a thing as an “ambivert.” I cackled, loudly. It’s difficult to get me to laugh so enthusiastically at online articles, but this one had me. It makes me happy to know there is a word that describes my personality. If you’re confused, an ambivert is someone who is an introvert and an extrovert (or they fall on a spectrum in-between those). Yeah, I know. I don’t know what the personality “switch” is, but I can go months without wanting or needing to be around anyone. My idea of a perfect day is staying home, sitting on my couch, facing the window, lighting a candle, drinking some tea or coffee, and reading a book or working. On those days I can tolerate going to a coffee shop but only if it’s relatively empty. Then there are those days when I want interaction with ALL the people. I go to events, heck, I go to my mom’s house where everyone is always hanging out. Those are the days where I can’t get enough of being out of the house and talking to people. Why do I do that? Who knows…

This matters for my activism because most days I lean towards my introverted side. It makes taking significant opportunities emotional, arduous, and stressful for me. Interactions with big groups of people for planning meetings or networking events usually mean I’ll be the one listening to everyone speak while I hover on the sides of their conversations. When suggestions or requests are being made for collaborative efforts, I often hesitate to talk instead of adamantly or enthusiastically participating.

Two weeks ago, the organization where I am volunteering was asked to have our president speak at Yom HaShoah for our local Jewish temple. The week of the service the president was going to be out of town. He asked for others to volunteer, but no one was able. I recognized immediately that this was the opportunity to request partnership from our Jewish community with refugee assistance or volunteering aid, but I hesitated to speak up. I waited until no one else was able or willing to take an interest. After I typed up my response to assist, I waited a few minutes to hit enter. I was pacing all over the kitchen. Ultimately, after a few days of working up the courage to volunteer, I still couldn’t send a quick reply. Here’s the thing – I KNEW I could do it. I knew I could write the speech; I knew it wouldn’t be difficult. DUDE, I EVEN KNEW I WOULD HAVE NO PROBLEM SPEAKING PUBLICLY. Even so, I still hesitated. I still walked around the house like a crazy person looking for something that doesn’t exist – my kids thought I’d lost my marbles (probably literally).

Anxiety manifests itself so differently for everyone. For me, I always know that in the end, I can accomplish what I set out to do, but every time, taking the first step is the most demanding task.

Finally, on April 11th, 2018 I spoke at our local Jewish temple to about 60 people for over 7 minutes and the only thought I had when it was over, was that I need to speak more often so that I can be better. It’s too bad I can’t skip the anxiousness entirely to go straight to the feeling of accomplishment (insert annoyed face here) I have at the end.

My wish for those contemplating taking a step forward to help the world is to take that step – even if you need a few days to think about it because your anxiety spikes knowing that you’ll need to interact with others. If in the end, it seems like a reasonable sacrifice to make – if like me, you think you can overcome those hurdles in the end – then do it. At best, you’ll find the work rewarding, and the world will be better for it. At worst, you continue doing what you were doing before but knowing that you tried.

Note: I uploaded my speech to youtube, but it is awful quality. If you wanna see it anyway, then there’s a link to it here. I was gonna copy/paste my speech here but – plagiarism – and I don’t necessarily wanna copyright it so I won’t be sharing it, unfortunately.

The Greatest Dream Of A Mexican Mother

MothersGreatestGift

A Mexican mother’s greatest dream is to see her children clean the entire house by themselves precisely as she wishes it to be cleaned. To sit down and have a cup of champurrado while her daughters make dinner by themselves. To take a look and see from afar that they are independent and she doesn’t have to lift a damn finger. To know that they can make tortillas from scratch and wipe their nalgas perfectly clean. She has expertly groomed her daughters for adulthood, and she is proud.

My mother saw this come to fruition and now she is happy. Her duties as a responsible mother with chancla and cinturon upbringing have been completed. Unfortunately, it cost me a lot. In her view, my job was to find a good man with which I would show off my excellent cleaning abilities. Dutifully, she inspected the sink each time I did the dishes. With a careful eye, she checked every corner of the kitchen to make sure I scooped up every speck of dirt on the floor. When I cleaned the bathroom, the fixtures should have shined liked diamonds. Every single day, from the day I was young enough to hold a broom, she was there to critically review my work – using tones of exasperation when something wasn’t quite clean and proudly displaying her extremely non-poker-like facial expressions. Yes, she masterfully completed her life’s mission, but it didn’t bring about the result she expected.

I was sixteen when I left my parent’s house to live with my boyfriend. You don’t have to tell me how fucked up that was. I thought, “hey, I know how to clean and cook! I (think) I’m in love with this guy (read asshole and just as naive) and I’m old enough to be on my own anyway!” What should have been typical teen behavior, via telling my parents I hated them and acting out without meaning it, instead quickly escalated into a teen life crisis except I didn’t know it yet. My attempts to be independent outside of our home would come back to slap me in the face as a “tu no sabes nada.” I thought that because I knew how to be a housemaid I could do what I wanted. The ability to maintain a home doesn’t equip you with personal responsibility or actual life experience, however. After years of failing on my own and trying to hold on to a young, cheating, drug-addicted machista, I became pregnant. ( I was scared to death of becoming pregnant! The last thing I wanted was to become another percent on a teen pregnancy statistics report! I was on birth control for all those years, but it failed me.) What I wanted was to prove that I was a grown-up. I wanted a fantastic job, my apartment, and a sense of accomplishment to show my parents that I could be independent outside of their house without a “man.” The guy I had at the time was just a desperate, sad, ugly attempt at getting out of the house.

See me here now, many years later, with my children and my amazing husband, and I continue to struggle. This time, not with knowing what responsibility and independence are, but with knowing how to raise my children with the same fervor as my mother and with a more expansive view of her teachings.

Now, it is my greatest dream as a Mexican mother is to see my girl and my boys clean the entire house precisely as I wish to be done. I want to sit down with my champurrado and admire my son at the stove when he’s making food for the family. To lift every damn finger in my house and wipe the floors along with them. I want them all to make tortillas from scratch and also know how to wipe their nalgas.

The difference is that now I know. Yes, you can cook a delicious meal, but can you also follow instructions at school? Yes, you can clean this house and leave it spotless but do you do your homework with the same attention to detail and follow-through. Obviously, you can make tortillas from scratch but can you just as easily complete other things? Also, do they take the same attention and apply that to other personal relationships – do they care for others as they care each other?

What do you, my child, need from me to be successful outside of the home? How do I help you to become a healthy, independent person? The gist of my revolt was based on that one word “independence.” It’s a swanky word now for parenting books who want to teach you how to manage a difficult child – if only my parents had those same tools when raising me.

Now, don’t mistake my story for hating on my mother. I still rely on her for so much advice and guidance. My goal is not to undo what she did. I don’t want to erase her. What happened to me is part of my story. Instead, it’s vital to me that I find ways to continue Hispanic traditions that maybe we don’t consider to be traditional at all. To have children clean the house from top to bottom on a Sat morning is customary for many Hispanic families. What I don’t want is for those traditions to continue in the name of promoting misogyny and sustaining gender roles. In my new view, who TF cares who/what/where/when/if you marry. Let me maintain my cultural traditions and marry them with new values. Our customs are what make us great people after all. Who am I to end them?

Let us reap the benefits of having our children in mixed cultures. One where we have the resources online or within our American schools to better our parenting and where we seek out the guidance of the tough love from our Mexican mothers to better our souls.

Let me know what you think?

La Comida de Mamá – Tradiciones Mexicanas Para Mis Hijos

Comida, Tradicion, Tradiciones

Ahora que estamos en la temporada navideña empieza la preparación de comidas típicas mexicanas de este momento: tamales, buñuelos, champurrado y mucho más. La mayoría de nuestras tradiciones están envueltas en la cocina – haciendo y comiendo en familia. Con eso en mente quiero tomar el tiempo este año de hacer el esfuerzo y devolver estas tradiciones con las cuales yo crecí, a mis hijos.

Cuando yo era niña mis papás nos llevaban a fiestas en casas de familiares. Al parecer había fiesta sábado y domingo el mes entero de diciembre. No recuerdo mucho sobre lo que hacíamos ahí y menos con quien estábamos, pero si recuerdo que muchas veces llegábamos temprano para ayudar a hacer la comida. Me acuerdo de todas las mujeres sentadas en las mesas preparando tamales. Cada una con su hoja de elote. En la estufa otro grupo de mujeres friendo buñuelos y echando burla. Todas platicando y riendo y apresuradas para terminar antes de que llegara la gente.

Siempre esperaba con anticipó que las señoras terminaran también para poder comer. No bastaba con tan sólo oler la riqueza de la comida que hacían. Cuando podía me ponía a ayudar y entre escuchar a la plática me echaba un bocadito. Y si no me pedían ayuda buscaba los panes y el champurrado y me buscaba un lugar para sentarme.

Hace muchos años que he visto algo así. ¿Será que a estas mujeres se las llevó el tiempo? No lo sé, también puede ser que las necesidades de mis padres de trabajar horas extremas nos distanciaron de estas festividades. O, también que eso mismo las haya distanciado a ellas. Sea lo que sea, ahora tengo a mis hijos y les quiero dar la experiencia que tuve yo al crecer. La experiencia de pasar las festividades navideñas disfrutando de la misma comida tradicional mexicana que yo. Hay sólo un problema: no sé cocinarlas…

¡No me maten! (Todavía…) ¡Yo sé cocinar! El problema es que no se cómo hacer las más complicadas de nuestras comidas. Por ejemplo, los tamales. Ah, ese tamal… el mismo por el cual los güeros se someten a ser tus amores para comerlos. (Mi esposo, ji ji ji).

No es que no trate de aprender, pero cuando la ocasión se presenta hay que hacer un montón y se hacen rápidamente (y saben mejor) en grupo. Cuando hay que hacerlos en mi familia siempre son hechos por mi mamá. Ella prepara la masa y nosotros (mi hermana, mi papá) preparamos el relleno y las hojas. ¡Varias veces prepare la masa pero las mamás (y abuelas) mexicanas nunca miden los ingredientes! Se mide a sabor, dicen. 😉

La intención que me propuse es aprender.  Quiero tener la capacidad de proveer todas esas delicias navideñas para mi familia. En especial quiero que mis hijos tengan la oportunidad de pedirme a mí que les enseñe a cocinar esas comidas. Que ellos tengan por parte mía lo que yo tengo por mi mamá. Sobre todo en la familia mexicana es mamá la que con su manto (o su comida) provee el amor y la seguridad en abundancia. Es por el cual nosotras como mujeres y madres tenemos la capacidad de alegrar el corazón (y el estómago) a cualquiera.
Quiero en esta temporada que la comida de mamá siga trascendiendo el tiempo y los obstáculos culturales. Los mismos que yo me encuentro desintegrando por parte de mi matrimonio a un hombre americano. Que mi cultura mexicana siga viva en mí como mamá mexicana y que mis hijos, sean quien sea que ellos decidan sea su amor cuando grandes, puedan traer a la mesa (literalmente) su cultura mexicana.

A Bicultural Couple – Stories Of Our Life

bicultural couple

Most of the time we don’t even notice the fact that together we are a pair of different cultures in an interracial marriage. We deal with life as it comes. Our differences only made apparent when we are not together or when we are recounting stories of our younger lives. It’s possible that our almost ten years together has made us indifferent nowadays; however, I do remember that in the beginning, it was all we talked about.

Part of the problem, my mom, said at some point, was that white people were always on time. They didn’t like to be late. If you are Hispanic, however, it is inherent that you will rarely be on time for anything. After being together a few years, I would like to think I have improved my on-time skills, but I don’t think I’ve managed to be on time for anything other than job interviews, and medical appointments. Unfortunately, I’m positive lateness is in my genes. (Sorry, kids.) My husband has learned not to expect my family at the time they say, and together we’ve learned when it’s ok to be late or when it’s not.

On Saturday mornings my mom used to clue us in to start cleaning by playing her Mexican regional music on our stereo system as loudly as possible. We listened to people like Christian Castro, Joan Sebastian, Juan Gabriel, Los Tigres del Norte, or Banda el Recodo. As soon as the first song came on it was game time – start cleaning! Each of the kids had a task to do. At the time my brothers were too young, so it was mostly my sister and me. She would get to clean the living room, dining room, and hallway. I would need to clean the stairs, landing, the bathroom and sort the laundry. (Mind you, she is two years younger than me, and we were full on house cleaners!) We would switch chores every other Saturday. Now that I’m grown-up I still have that habit. The difference is when I decide it’s time to clean on the weekend, and I start blasting my Mexican music, my husband looks at me like I’m crazy (lol!). Had he been Hispanic he wouldn’t even bat a lash. Sometimes I listen to American classic rock, or Lana Del Rey, Muse, John Mayer, Emeli Sande, Young the giant, La Santa Cecilia, OG Shakira, reggaeton, etc.,  – yet he still looks at me, while I’m dancing and doing the dishes like I’m crazy. He’s learned just to let me be, but I think he has unconsciously clued into the cleaning routine. I’ve made my mark. (I did learn later that listening to music while cleaning isn’t only a Hispanic thing; however, blaring the music loudly enough for your neighbors to hear is.)

Comparatively, he’s done things that make no sense to me or that have bewildered me. Notably, my introduction to movies or film. He is a movie aficionado. He studied theater before he settled on being an IT professional. His family is just as invested. There was a time before we dated when we went on a lunch “date.” I made the mistake of asking him about his favorite movies. He started naming and quoting and mentioning, and I just couldn’t keep up. There was not a single thing he said that I recognized. I was aghast and stupefied. It would be a long time before I would ask him anything related to actors, or movies, directors or theater. (A long time! LOL)

Nowadays he makes it his mission to “educate” me. We’ve watched movies from directors like: The Wachowskis (Matrix, V for Vendetta), The Coen Brothers (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men), Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s 11), Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element) John Woo, Peter Jackson, plus many others. He’s shown me movies like Boondock Saints, Chocolat, and so on. The list of films we’ve seen is endless; likewise, is the list he wants me to see. The time when I was hesitant to ask him about his movie preferences is long gone, nowadays I sit back, listen, and enjoy his movie ramblings.

Here’s a particularly sensitive difference between American culture and Hispanic culture: birthday cards, thank you cards, Christmas cards, birth announcements. Just, why? In my opinion, it’s overkill. If you are close to the person and the event being celebrated then why is it necessary to send a card? It’s a waste of money; it usually gets tossed in the garbage (after the obligatory few months on the fridge).

I feel it’s “sensitive” because all kinds of people have different opinions of them. My husband’s family adores them. My mother-in-law doesn’t expect them from us anymore, lol. However, if I didn’t send one in the past (I use the twins as an excuse now, sorry busy!), I could feel the oppression coming at me from a mile away with, “oh, we didn’t get your birth announcement – when was he born?” (You know damn well – you got the text) Then, recently we heard, “you guys didn’t do Christmas cards, but they are so fun!” (No, they’re not, they’re just a chore). This requests for mailed announcements wasn’t necessarily from my family anymore, but from friends or relatives, we didn’t see often. Maybe this makes me a grinch (or lazy) but I just can’t.

The ones that confuse me the most are thank you cards (writing them, not receiving them!). If I attended your birthday party or whatever celebration, and I gave you a gift, then chances are you already thanked me for it. Why would you need to thank me again? I applaud you for having the time management skills that I don’t have! However, if I didn’t attend the event and I sent a gift, it’s a gift. I don’t expect a thank you. I assume you will hopefully love and enjoy what I gifted – it’s so simple. I’m confident that the next time we meet you’ll probably thank me anyway (I have awesome friends like that). Or if YOU attended my celebration and gave ME a gift I will be thanking you for it right then and there. Nowadays, I can get away with not writing them because I have a legit excuse: twins and a toddler (my oldest is getting up there with the needing constant attention too.).

When you look at my side of the family, then you’ll notice our fridges aren’t covered in Christmas cards and birth announcements. It’s typical at Hispanic celebratory events to have a receiving line for gifts or to expect a verbal thank you from the hostess at an event. You CANNOT get away with not talking to Tio Carlos about his new venture or Tia Consuelo about how her family is doing while giving their gift – it’s rude. So, eventually, during the conversation rounds, you are bound by blood and law to say thank you for whatever gift they gave you and expect a thank you immediately when you provide a gift. And that is that. No written thank you cards in the mail to be sent later – more like backtalk and scolding if you don’t say it then.

Same goes for birth announcements – you are expected to know these events are happening and usually obligated to visit. You bring your welcoming gift (not the baby shower gift) and hang out with the family. Help them do the dishes or change diapers or hold the baby while they get to feel like an average human for a bit. You are expected to KNOW and beg for forgiveness if you didn’t. It would be a shame for you to be out of touch with your own family. It’s both a blessing and a curse – to know what is going on with everyone ALL the time.

So, what’s my husband’s view of this topic? Meh. He’s appreciative if you send anything (me too I promise) but doesn’t feel the need to address anything of our own. Please don’t get me wrong though! I love receiving them. I appreciate the time and effort it takes to book a photographer, get everyone all dolled up, and then miraculously get everyone to smile (simultaneously) for a family picture. It’s just not for us. Honestly, I’m not positive if it wasn’t a convenience for my husband – men tend to be more dismissive of this type of thing. He probably enjoyed the fact that I don’t think sending cards is necessary.

There’s a video I recorded somewhere of our oldest playing in the snow in the backyard. In it, you can hear clearly and consistently my oldest speaking Spanish – “Mami mira!”, “Mami, esta frio,” “Mami, ven juega conmigo.” Regrettably, her fluency is all but gone. Fortunately, she can still understand these words and if she wanted she could say them, she could. However, she is nowhere near the fluency she had when she was young. There is a multitude of things I could blame for her decline: myself, my job (too busy), etc. Ultimately, the excuse prevailing is the necessity to communicate with my husband – he only speaks and understands English. Now, there is a gawking obviousness to our cultural differences.

With the introduction of Jacob and the twins, it has been infinitely tricky to interchange languages at home. They are beginning to learn how to speak so, for now, it is best to stick to one language at home. That is not to say I don’t consider the possibility of my children’s future speaking Spanish, but I feel it might be much easier once they have established a language first. For my oldest, it’ll come when she takes elective Spanish courses in school. I hate to think my responsibility for introducing her to her culture via an essential tool must be taught instead by some institution that hardly holds her in any regard. My plan to make up for this is to one day send her to Mexico with my family for a crash course! In the meantime, she gets plenty of Mexican cultural learning from being with her grandparents and talking about my life growing up.

The sacrifice (as I feel it is one) of losing Spanish at home is not made with scorn for my husband because he can only speak one language. Instead, I decided because I am able. The actuality that in this lifetime I can love someone different from me is a cherished gift. Yes, it has had its consequences, but they are redeemable. We’ve made more significant strides towards a harmonious marriage despite all the outside noise by listening and believing in each other. I am a proud Mexican. My husband is a proud white American. Our two different cultures brought us together. In light of the increase in hate crimes and the boldness of previously “closeted” racists, here you have one example of how we can overcome this ugliness: love.

In conclusion, apparent differences from the beginning of our relationship are bygone. We live our daily lives as every other couple does. There is nothing “special” about us. The thing that would have a potential to divide us (hate) has only made us stronger.

I’d like to note; I do realize that other bicultural/interracial couples may not have as supportive an environment that I do. Potentially, they may not have the environment where the POC is BELIEVED to be oppressed. As a person of color, it’s hard just to live your life sometimes. At any rate, what I want to say is that there are interracial couples that are successful. There is the possibility of loving someone despite their skin color. Is it easy, no – but it is possible.

 

It is possible.