Monthly Archives: August 2008

Warning: long entry ahead

Ok. Strap your reading glasses on. After talking about my writing class I figured I should publish one of my writing exercises. Keep in mind I’m terrible at apostrophes (as is my sister apparently, according to an article published at her 40th birthday party… must be in the genes). I also have not proofread this completely so I do expect my mother to comment on my misuse of desert vs. dessert or where vs. wear at least once. However, it is about 7:15 and I have been at Panera mooching free internet for about 3 hours so I figure I better publish this and get home. I never wrote very much about the day we left Tetelilla. It was a very emotional day and was very hard for both of us. Here is what I’ve written so far about it…. I welcome any and all comments and feedback, even grammatical ones (if you must).

Mex and I awoke slowly that day. The warmth of morning hugged the fruit trees and seeped into our room, stroking our faces and arms, causing us to groan with the realization it will be yet another steamy day. With a loud whinny, the scrawny horse announced it was her time to be fed. She seemed to know the instant the sun broke above the horizon, and immediately begged to be led down the road to her feeding ground. I was never sure why she was so anxious because the dry, brittle grass of the field seemed as if it wouldn’t satisfy a pocket gopher, let alone a full-grown horse.

Mex reluctantly lifted himself out of bed, kissing me lazily on the nose. I grunted and rolled on my side, sounding like one of the twin pigs his sister was raising in the backyard pen. Something darted quickly down my arm. I sure hope that is sweat, I thought worriedly. Keeping my eyes closed a moment longer, I tried to remain calm. Slowly, I rose to check the mounds of mouse “food” Mex had put out three days before. His attempt to get rid of the unwelcome visitors. Sighing with relief, I realized some had disappeared. Wait. Was it actually moving? Squinting down at the blue tiles I saw the small, poisonous fuchsia pellets marching under the refrigerator. I looked on the other side and saw a little pile of our defense system surrounded by ants. Damn, we lost again, I muttered. I guess Mexican mice are smarter than Minnesotan ones and Mexican ants will eat anything.

Mex’s father had told him that mice had only been around town for the last few years. My theory on the situation was the large packs of dogs roaming the streets had created a complete scarcity of cats, causing the mice population to flourish. Thankfully, due to the meticulous cleaning of his sisters, there were never any mice in the kitchen. Chuy and I were so used to our pest-free American lives that, upon arrival, we did not think twice about bringing a pile of snacks into the room, including granola bars and mini bags of chips. However, after noticing holes in multiple granola bars and the corner of four bags of Harvest Cheddar Sunchips (a surprising mouse favorite over the Cheetos and Cheese Doritos) our error in judgment was discovered. The remaining time in Tetelilla was spent battling the rodents, realizing our repeated losses when we would daily find new mouse droppings on the bed which the food had previously sat on.

My casual attitude throughout this war surprised me, since I would not tolerate rodents, insects or any animal in my own home, placing traps or calling an exterminator at the first buzz heard or black pellet found. However, here in Mexico, in the heart of this impoverished country, the problems of drought, heat, and hunger, of poverty, unemployment, and lack of education seemed to drown out the sounds of those scurrying feet.

The metal gate clanked as horse and husband started their morning procession for the last time, snapping me out of my daze. Feeling slightly defeated and very annoyed by my ant discovery, I grabbed a towel, slipped on flip-flops and made my way across the yard to the shower. “Buenos días,” I said to Chuy’s father as I walked past. His teal plastic chair was already sitting on the uneven stones outside his bedroom door. “Sí,” he replied and chuckled, not so quietly. I know I didn’t pronounce that wrong, I thought. After three weeks, I no longer took his laughter personally though, knowing he spoke little and laughed a lot. Sitting in his chair with gray polyester pants and plaid snap-buttoned shirt, a white cowboy hat throwing shade on his wrinkled, warm brown face, I could not see his crippled hand and leg.

Giving him another smile, I continued down the dirt path towards the bathroom. I pushed the curtain aside and took a hurried shower, trying to conserve as much water as possible because I didn’t know how much was left in the tank today. It was only 7am and the water needed to last, through all the day’s functions: showers, dishes, hand washing, toilet flushing, and plant watering, until 1 in the afternoon. Like in any U.S. city, Tetelilla has a main city well that pumps the water from underground, pushing it through pipes that run under the city’s cement and gravel streets. The difference in Mexico is that each street only has water coming down the pipes for an hour every day. Each family is allowed one private pump to bring the water for all the day’s chores into large holding tanks and barrels hoping it would be enough for the next 24 hours. It never is.

When Mex was young, his family who lives on the north side of town, had the ability to pump more water throughout the day if it was needed and his family’s yard was full of fruit trees and flowers. However, people on the south side of town did not even have enough water for cooking, due to poor pumping systems and pipes. Since this process of water rationing was started in recent years, as an effort to provide water equality throughout town, most of the trees have shriveled in his dad’s yard. In fact, if a person in town has actually has healthy trees or a lot of green plants and flowering bushes, a neighbor will likely report them to the water authority who will inspect the yard, making sure the household is not using any extra water pumps.

Walking back to our cement house after my quick shower, I noticed my father-in-law was preparing to leave. Each day, he took a taxi to the neighboring town to sit in the plaza, people-watching with his friends. I was surprised when the first morning we woke up in Tetelilla, his father was already gone.

“Doesn’t he want to stay here and talk to you,” I had said, slightly indignant. After all, Mex had not been back here in over 13 years, wouldn’t his family want to spend every moment possible with him?

“That’s what he does,” Mex had said, not seeming to be bothered in the least. “He likes to talk to his friends.”

Hmph, I had thought, seeing my imagined scenes of this visit burst and pop like fireworks in my head.

”Felipe,” I whispered now. “Does your dad know we are leaving today?”

“I don’t know,” he said, taking out his shorts for the third time and refolding them, nervous about leaving.

“Maybe you should tell him,” I said. “He would want to know.”

Looking out the wrought iron window bars at his dad, I saw Mex’s eyes start to water. Blinking rapidly, he folded his shorts a final time, laid them in the suitcase, and zipped it closed. He crossed the dirt yard to his father and spoke to him. My stomach knotted, hoping his father would not leave, knowing that this time Mex would be saddened greatly. He did not leave. In fact, for the first time since our arrival he joined us in the kitchen for breakfast, though he sat against the wall and not at the table, listening and not eating. Only Mex’s oldest sister, Filogonia (Filo for short) was home today, since his youngest sister, Eli, had gone to work early this morning. We sat around the table in silence picking at our scrambled eggs mixed with green beans, folding and unfolding the warm corn tortillas, afraid any words would bring tears. I mixed a spoonful of instant NesCafe into my mug of hot water, sniffing the faint aroma of coffee.

“¿Quieres papaya?” Filo asked me. “No,” I said. “¿Sandia?” she insisted, pushing the watermelon towards me. Unsure how to explain that sadness had killed my hunger, I smiled and took a plate full of fruit. Abelina, Mex’s second oldest sister who lives a five minute walk across town, suddenly appeared and we were glad. She had come to say goodbye, but everyone pretended otherwise.

I listened to the rapid Spanish as I looked around the kitchen I would not see for awhile. Terracotta cooking pots of all sizes lined the wall and they glowed softly in the morning sun. The hot breeze was starting to gust through the glassless window openings cut in the cement block walls. After finishing my plate of fruit, I fingered the curvy, delicate edge of the small plate and stared at the pale pink flowers trying to decide what I should do next. Breathing in, I pushed back the white plastic chair, the scraping against the concrete floor making goosebumps rise on my arms. I left Mex talking to his sisters and father and went back to our room. Carefully, I finished copying the Thank you letters I had worked on for the past three days from my notebook onto cards. Years of being shy in Spanish class had left me with terrible speaking skills, but I could write almost perfectly and was hoping to express my deep gratitude and joy to his family in a way I hadn’t yet been able to say.

It was 9:30 when I finished and I went back to the kitchen. “We should go see Sofia,” I suggest quietly to Mex. “Where is she?” Mex asked his sisters in Spanish. “At her house making tortas for a party at the school,” they replied. Abelina decided to come with us and we went out onto the rough cement street and three houses down, entering his sister Sofia’s gated yard. She did not look up when we walked in to the kitchen. Understanding, and not eager to start the process of farewells either, we each took a station, Sofia cutting the perfect bread rolls, Abelina scooping the tinga – chicken with red chile and garlic, Mex slicing avocados, our niece Deysi putting on lettuce and tomato, me wrapping the finished sandwiches in tinfoil. Unfortunately, we finished quickly that way and paused not knowing what to do next.

Mex and I went in to the next room where our niece Gabi was changing her baby cousin’s diaper. Mex gave her a hug, saying we were leaving. I handed her the card I had written and felt my throat clench. I hugged her tight and left the room unable to speak. Mex and I stood in the hallway for a minute, sobbing from somewhere deep inside and clinging to each other tightly, trying to squeeze the pain from our bodies. Mex’s face reflected a deep despair I had not seen before and feelings of sorrow pierced my heart. With my arms around him I whispered in my broken voice that we would return soon. This time leaving was different. Whatever the outcome of that interview in Juarez, he would be back soon to see his sisters and his father. It would not be 13 years. Don’t be afraid sweetheart. We will come back together.

Breathing deeply, Mex and I returned to the kitchen red-eyed and sniffling, causing his two sisters to burst in to tears. After more long goodbyes, words of thanks and promises to return soon, we walked out of Sofia’s house and back to his dad’s. There the process of farewell was repeated with his dad and oldest sister. Filo clasped me to her chest repeating words of love and well wishes which I understood perfectly. Holding her tightly to me, I knew that my lack of language skills would never hinder my relationship with my husband’s family.

The feeling of love that surged as I put my arms around each sister told me our introduction had been successful. My heart ached at leaving them as much as it had when we left my own parents in El Paso, Texas. After six years together, constantly fearing the judgment of my husband’s family in Mexico, three short weeks had truly made me a part of them. Even through the language differences, they were able to see my deep love and respect for Mex and his culture. That was my test I realized. Not how rapidly I could answer questions or how well I could conjugate verbs. It did not matter that I was American. I wasn’t too pale or too plump, my hair wasn’t too thin nor my mannerisms offensive. My worries and insecurities were gone in that instant, pushed out of me by the warm embraces of my sister-in-law. Mi cuñada. All that mattered was my love for their younger brother and his love for me. Reluctantly I released Filo, handing her the card I had made. “Regrasamos muy pronto,” I said. We will return very soon. And I meant it.


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8’s are lucky

Well, somebody says 8’s are lucky. I guess I always thought of 7 as a lucky number…  Although 8 is the month I was born so it was very lucky for my parents and big sister (they may agree on somedays and not agree on others). Two of my sister’s kids were born in the 8th month also. My brother-in-law was born in the 8th month. I would consider that lucky for my sis and for me since he’s been around since I was 3 and I got an automatic big brother. My grandmother was born on 8-18-08 and is celebrating her 100th birthday TODAY! The same date 8-18-08 but a whole century later. Amazing! I told my dad he’s got good genes and I look forward to his 100th in 31.5 years but he doesn’t seem as excited as I am about that. Apparently living to 100 isn’t a goal of his although I’m trying to convince him to make it one.

Today also marks four months since Mex and I crossed back in to the US. Now only two years and eight months until he can become a citizen. You better believe I am counting the days… probably more than he is! Though it means more money and we are still reeling a little bit from the fees and 4.5 months of him not working. I certainly understand the process of legalization is not one to take lightly or a decision to be made quickly. With $4500 for the attorney (worth every penny!) $2500 in fees to the US Immigration Service, $9600 in Mex’s lost wages from not working, and over $6000 in travel expenses it is not a process for the faint of heart. True, we could have saved $3000 by having me stay home but I would have had to probably spend that much on phone bills and ulcer treatment from all my worries.

I have heard news reports recently criticizing undocumented workers for not coming forward and trying to do things the right way. In my experience, the people I know send almost all of there extra income back to their families in Mexico to support them. They do not have the luxury of being able to save over $20,000 to then go to Mexico and take the risk that they may never come back. That is every penny of a years work for many of them. This is not to brag about how frugal Mex and I are or how much money we were able to save. We worked very, very hard and had to do it over more than 3 years. He worked two full time jobs starting at 6am and finishing at 11pm Mon – Fri for the first year of our marriage. I am writing these figures because if you know anyone going through a process similar to ours it is important for them to understand the real costs before they get started. While that $9600 of lost work is not a number we had to PAY someone it was a lot bigger loss of income than we had predicted. People starting the process should be given accurate numbers by their attorneys so they are not blind-sided by the cost of legalization.

Alright, enough pontificating (I’ve been wanting to use that word for weeks!)

My final call for 8’s being lucky is the fact that today, 8-18-08, Mex is starting his new job with a great company, where he has been trying to get a job since coming back. They are a corporate food service company with excellent benefits and an excellent track record of employee treatment. He starts today. They also provides food for Medtronic, Target, St. Olaf College (Um Ya Ya), and Cue at the Guthrie to name a few.

All right- I gotta run and check on a house but everyone send out a birthday wish for my grandma Dorothy.

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8-8-08, New beginnings

Someone told me that 8-8-08 is considered a lucky date by the Chinese, a symbol of new beginnings. It is one of the reasons why the opening of the Olympics was chosen to be today. I wouldn’t say this week was full of new beginnings but it was definitely interesting.

To just add one more thing about the previously mentioned horrible one-day boss of Mex’s… He went to get his check for one day’s work since the guy wouldn’t give it to him the day he went to quit. Once he was there the boss argued with Mex and said “I already paid you, why are you here?” Mex said, “You didn’t pay me you told me to come back.” After a few more minutes of arguing with the “boss” Mex said “Do you think I’m an idiot?” and the guy finally gave him a check for the day. The one day Mex had worked he was told by co-workers that Latinos usually only last a week at the restaurant. I found that surprising since, in my experience, Latinos are hard workers and would rarely quit a job with good pay (which it was). I guess I now understand why they don’t stay! Did I mention the owner himself is an immigrant from Europe?

Anyway, enough about that guy. Shameful that an immigrant would treat a fellow immigrant so poorly but Mex will hopefully never have to see him again and we CERTAINLY will never go to the restaurant to eat.

This past Sunday, one of my Mexican nieces turned 6. To celebrate the day Mex and I went with some of his family to Prescott, Wisconsin to a park near the river. I must say his family always has the most amazing food! Even at a picnic they bring guacamole (which never seems to turn brown like mine), tomato and cilantro salad, Mexican rice… we grilled corn and cecina, which is thinly sliced, salted flank steak. Absolutely delicious! Very lean and sooooo good. They also put the tortillas on the grill to warm them up, because one would never be able to eat with a cold tortilla!! =)

We were celebrating and eating at one picnic table and there were many other tables of Americans around (pale ones like me =). After lunch Mex and his family were playing beach volleyball. I was sitting at the picnic table with his niece Eugenia’s neighbor chatting and I saw the group of American’s start tossing around a volleyball and look over at the net. One of the guys, in his 40’s or so, volunteered to go over to the Mexicans and see if they could use the net. As he went over and started talking to Mex and Chencho (his nephew-in-law), the people at the picnic table exclaimed “he’s talking to them!” like it was some sort of miracle. They repeated it a few times until I looked at them and said “they do speak English and they don’t bite very hard.” The Americans laughed and actually challenged Mex’s family to a volleyball match.

They played three games against each other and everyone on both teams had a great time. Then after they all shook hands and congratulated the winners (the Mexicans!) we each went back to our picnic tables. It turns out they were also celebrating a birthday and sang the Happy Birthday song almost at the same time we did. Each table cheered for the other after they sang.

It was a moment I needed to see after the sourness of Mex’s work experience. A moment of Americans, though skeptical at first, becoming open to the Mexicans. Not afraid. Enjoying their company, even experiencing some comraderee (not sure how to spell that). The American’s fear and hesitation disappeared once they opened themselves up to my Mexican family. I hope more people will do this. Truly open their minds and hearts to another culture. Put aside their preconceived notions and play together. It seems very possible as I sit here watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games. Dozens of countries joining together for 17 days, putting aside most political disagreements and just enjoying the event, striving to do their best.

Are my ideas of America’s subcultures truly joining together idealistic? Maybe. Impossible? I hope not.

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Filed under Family, Food, Immigration, Minnesota vs. Mexico