Monthly Archives: September 2008

Hispanic Heritage Month

Some of you may or may not know that Sept 15th – Oct 15th is Hispanic Heritage Month. Interestingly, I am more excited about this than my Mexican husband. So far I’ve tried to get him to go to the Independence Day celebration on Lake Street (although that was technically on the 14th) and a free Flamenco Dance event in Minnehaha Park. Both times I was shot down. I’ve already printed off tickets for a Latino Family Day on Oct 11th in St. Paul which I’m sure we won’t go to either. I will put my foot down on Oct 26th when there is a Day of the Dead event at the MN History Center and go without him if I have to.

I’ve told him that I would like to explore different Latino outreach events because when we have children I think it is incredibly important for them to feel a part of the Latino community. We have talked about living in Mexico for 6 to 9 months when we have kids when they are about three to five so they can really become fluent in Spanish and, more importantly, get to know Mex’s family and town. We both agree on this point and hope our jobs at that time would allow us to do this. I think it is crucial that any children we have would spend time in Mexico and I believe it would help them appreciate life in the States a lot more.

Since when the day (still way in the future) comes to have children and decide to raise them I think these discussions about Latino/American culture will become a lot more at the forefront of our lives. I don’t force my husband to attend events even though I am interested in them and try to support him by going. The only one he does enjoy is the Cinco de Mayo celebration in St. Paul. Trying to blend our cultures is very difficult and I feel like his Mexican heritage is always getting watered down. We only speak English together, don’t dance to salsa or reggae music (we don’t dance at all actually!), don’t attend many Quinceañera (girl’s 15th birthday parties) or huge baptisms parties of strangers like his family does… The only thing we really do is cook Mexican food and try to share it with others.

Mex seems generally disinterested in events here, mainly because he views them as not really “Mexican.” I won’t say he is ashamed of being Mexican because he is definitely not. He’s just not the type who pastes a flag on the back of his car or flies one over his house. When we were in Mexico he enjoyed listening to music in Spanish, talking in Spanish, telling me stories about Mexico. When he is in Minnesota he focuses his thoughts here. What he should be doing here to be successful, to communicate, etc.

I asked him once if he knew what his heritage was, what kind of Indian was in his blood or how much Spanish. He says they are all mixed and has no idea what kind and no interest in finding out. To me it would be fascinating to know if his Indian blood was Aztec or Mayan or Incan or some other tribe. Just like I traced my family tree back to see what country all my ancestors came from so I can tell you exactly how much of everything I am (except for 1/16 that is up in the air between Danish and French/Canadian due to birth certificate discrepancy). I think many Americans can identify exactly what their heritage is and Mex has no interest in that discovery and really no resource to find out even if he did want to know.

In Mexico, for hundreds of years full-blooded Indians were the lowest class and then mestizos (a mix of Indian and Spanish or African) were the next lowest. There is still a definite divide in the country between these groups, especially when looking at income level. Most of the poorest people in the country are the indigenous people. I guess that is why my husband never really thought about what parts had made him a whole… In Mexico you are a Mexican first and you don’t really want to draw attention to the other parts of your heritage, especially the indigenous ones.

Hopefully, my husband and I will find a better balance between the American and Latino worlds here in Minnesota because part of what makes him special to me is his culture and his past and I want to help him keep those things alive and appreciate them with him… As much as he’ll allow me to I guess!

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Filed under Bicultural and biracial marriage, Hispanic-Latino events in MN, Marital Issues, Mexican culture, Minnesota, Minnesota vs. Mexico

Feliz Dia de la Independencia

Happy Independence Day to all the Mexicans out there! Yes, September 16th is Independence day, NOT May 5th like many Americans may think, due to the big Cinco de Mayo celebrations we tend to have here in the States. Here is the summary of the movement as I understand it.

In 1808, Napoleon invaded Spain and got rid of Ferdinand VII, replacing him with his own brother Joseph Bonaparte, which further agravated the colony of New Spain, which was already extremely unhappy with the crown. In 1810, after more than 300 years of rule by Spain, often violent and oppressive to the indigenous tribes and any one who was not a true Spanish-born Spaniard, the Independence movement of New Spain was beginning. By this time most of the land was owned by the powerful Spanish- born or Spanish descended residents of New Spain.

There was a group of young people who had a “literary club” in Querétaro and they had declared that Dec 8, 1810, would be the date to proclaim Independence and they gathered weapons and ammunition, seeking allies across the country. With only three months to go, news leaked and some members of the group were arrested including Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez who managed to get news out to the others before she was taken away and jailed. Doña (an even more polite version of Señora or Mrs.) Josefa is considered the heroine of the Mexican Independence movement.

The plotters decided to advance the date. Three days later they pronounced Mexico independent. Just before dawn on September 16, 1810, the priest of the town of Dolores (near San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato where Mex & I visited), Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla raised the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe and gave the Cry of Independence (now known as the “grito de Delores” by Mexicans). There is no record of exactly what he said but the most repeated version is “Viva la religion! Viva nuestra Santissima Madre de Guadalupe! Viva la America! Y muera el mal gobierno!” or “Long live the religion! Long live Our Holy Mother of Guadalupe! Long live America! And death to bad government!” The other sentence that is often quoted is “Death to the gauchupines (Spaniards)”

Hidalgo was 57 and a criollo, which means he was born in New Spain of Spanish parents. Not a mestizo (mix of Spanish, indigenous and even African blood) which was the underclass, indio which was a full-blooded Indian- the lowest class, or a peninsular which was someone actually born in Spain – the highest class at the time. The Virgin of Guadalupe became a symbol of the revolution, the Holy Mother with the Brown Face. Her face is dark like the indigenous people and was proof to them that God loved them, while Spaniards used them, killed them and enslaved them. Hildalgo led troops under a flag of the Virgin with the grito written on it.

They had victory after victory as they marched. The army was 50,000 strong when it marched on Guanajuato, one of the richest silver cities of the time. On Sept 28th there were 500 Spaniards and criollos with their fortunes inside the stone walls of the towns public granary, now becoming the Spanish fortress of Guanajuato. The forces fighting for independence threw stones and shot at the walls of the granary but they held. Finally they piled wood at the gate and lit it on fire. At 5 that night the angry crowd burst through the the burned door and violently killed everyone except the women and children and looted all the valuables. The looting and killing went on all night, by a frenzy of angry, impoverished people.

After months of battles across the country the leader, Hildalgo, was captured on March 21st in a trap set by the Spaniards, along with three other leaders, Ignacio Allende, Jose Mariano Jimenez and Juan Aldama. They were taken to the Federal Palace of Chihuahua City, jailed, probably tortured, and sentenced to death. Allende, Jimenez and Aldama were found guilty of treason and executed on June 26, 1811. In the end, Hildalgo recanted and apologized that he had not controlled his troops. He apologized for the madness and the slaughter that the poor had done. Though he apologized for the bloody turn of the revolution, he remained determined that Mexico should be freed. On July 30, 1811, Hildalgo stood before the firing squad, refusing to be blindfolded. He put his hand over his heart to give the executioners a target. The first volley wounded him in the arms and legs and one passed through his hand but did not kill him. He lay on the ground, bleeding and in pain until someone pointed the gun straight at his heart and killed him.

The heads of all four men were hacked off and put in metal cages where they were sent to Guanajuato and hung on the four courners of the walls of the Granary. The heads remained there in metal cages for 10 years, which is how long it took that priest to lead his worshipers of the Virgin of Guadalupe out of the strangling embrace of the Spanish crown. New Spain’s independence was finally recognized by the Spanish Empire on September 27, 1821.

To decide a new name for their independent country, they looked in to their history, back before the conquest by Spain, to the great city of Tenochtitlan or Mexica (the city in the middle of the lake where Mexico City now stands). Mexico, the name of a warrior god, one of the names of perhaps the most beautiful and orderly city in the world at the moment of its destruction (early 1500s after the Spanish came). However, the people who lived in the city, who built it, who were mostly destroyed, were called the Mexica. If everyone in the country was going to be a Mexican a new name had to be created for the Mexica. They were the people we now know as Aztecs, renamed because one of the stories of their origin said they came from a place called Aztlan.

How did my husband celebrate Independence Day as a kid? On the night of Sept 15th, the President of Mexico reenacts the Grito de Delores by ringing the bells of the National Palace in Mexico City, repeating the words of Hildalgo with the addition of “Viva Mexico!” “Long live Mexico.” Up to 500,000 spectators gather in the Zocalo (main plaza) of Mexico City to watch this. At dawn on Sept 16 there is a parade and the day is full of festivals all around towns throughout Mexico and ended with fireworks displays even in the smallest of towns.

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Filed under Holidays and Celebrations, Mexican culture

Back to school

Well, I guess I don’t go back to school after Labor Day and we don’t have any kids that do but something just seems changed once September hits. Mex has started accelerating his efforts in school in hopes of graduating next June. He still has a lot to learn about US History, Language Arts, Algebra, Economics, American Citizenship and Biology… I anticipate biology to be the hardest with all the long science words. A whole new English vocabulary!

As a foreign-born person who completed school but does not have any university education, Mex is required to take 36 trimesters of US high school courses in order to receive a US diploma (typical high school students take 72, I believe). From my calculations he has about 14 done with about nine months of work so it will be a push to finish the rest by June but I’m confident he can do it. Mex always tells me in a tone of great surprise how many Americans are in his diploma classes. They are mostly younger than 30, either girls who had children in high school or, for the middle-aged men it seems to be ones who were injured at work, lost their job and now have to find a new career where a high school diploma or computer skills are necessary.

I volunteer at the Elk River diploma and ESL (English as a Second Language) programs once a week and have been for two years, starting my third year this month. I greatly admire all the people who attend classes and try to improve their education or their understanding of English. Some nights there are so many students that there are not enough teachers or volunteers to help everyone. One item that is overlooked in the talk about making English the US’s official language is the need for more funding and more volunteers at these ABE/ESL locations. There are students who come only one or two times and then do not come back because they are frustrated with their lack of attention. From June 1, 2007 to May 31, 2008 there were over 250 students who attended classes in Elk River for at least 12 hours. Amazing the need for help. However, there are only one or two teachers who can sign off on assignments and maybe a two or three volunteers who help students with questions during each class time.

Some nights Mex is at school for three hours and does not get a chance to talk to a teacher. At least he has the benefit of a college educated wife and a native English speaker at home to help him with projects. However, there are many things that need to be done in the classroom and only a licensed teacher can actually sign off and give credit for work. Mex gets frustrated when he has things to turn in and is not able to do it. The teachers in Elk River are incredible though. The main teacher’s name is Pam and you can tell she was put on earth to help people. She is friendly and generous and always giving, genuinely concerned about her students and interested in their stories and lives and helping them achieve their goals. However, no matter how wonderful and hard-working someone is it is impossible to handle so many students with so little help!

Most of you who read my blog (about 99.9% of you) are native English speakers. I would encourage you, if you are looking for a volunteer opportunity, maybe you are retired and looking for something to fill part of your days, please consider helping in an ESL classroom or with diploma students. Was school so long ago you are not sure you remember much? That’s ok! Lots of ESL students need help with simple reading and speaking and pronunciation skills. Information for your local ESL/ABE program should be posted in your Community Education Guide or email me and I’ll help you find a program close to you! It is amazingly rewarding to help people who are motivated to learn! Happy volunteering!

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