Category Archives: Family

Disney World with toddlers, Day 1

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Not to toot my own horn, but I have one a-DOR-able pirate on my hands.

Well, we did it. We survived a trip to Disney World with a 1.5 and 3.5 year-old. Why Disney, you ask? Well, add together a Captain Hook obsessed little boy and a Minnie/Mickey/Donald, Little Mermaid-obsessed little girl, and two parents who wanted to warm up after a brutal Minnesota January, Disney World was our vacation spot of choice. I wanted to jot down some tips and opinions of things we did in case any one out there is thinking of taking their young toddlers, or in case we want to go again soon and I need to jog my memory.

This was my 9th (or maybe 10th?) time to WDW (Walt Disney World) and I was amazed at the changes since my last visit in 2007. Most remarkably the New Fantasyland area in Magic Kingdom which was great for entertainment of multiple toddlers. Another change is all the pirate-centric activities, which are probably put in place so parent’s have an alternative to spend money on their kids beyond the typical princess fare.

First off, I am a big fan of staying on Disney property, especially since WDW started the new Magical Express bus service that picks travelers up at the airport and delivers them and their luggage right to the hotel. They even pick up your checked baggage from baggage claim and deliver it to the room. However, there is a 3-hour wait on that so make sure must-have items are in your carry on. Yes, it can be cheaper to stay off property, rent a car, drive in to the park every day, etc. BUT, if you believe time is money and don’t particularly enjoy hauling car seats with you when you travel, the convenience of Disney property is well worth the extra money (I’m not even convinced it would be extra money if you stayed at a value resort).

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The 8-story lobby of the Wilderness Lodge complete with totem pole, real (and cement) lodge pole pine beams, enormous fireplace, and miniature bubbling geyser with a stream running outside. (sorry for the bad picture)

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View of the Wilderness Lodge pool area and the lake.

We chose the Wilderness Lodge which is on the high end of the price spectrum but I have found that January is a great time to stay there. Our Woods view (one upgrade above the most basic standard view room) was only $204.10 a night (plus about $25 in taxes) which felt like a steal since the same room carries a $350+ per night price tag in high season. Yes, truth be told, we could have stayed at a value resort for about $100 a night. We discussed hotel choice numerous times because that is one of the places to cut down vacation costs, especially in WDW. In the end, we decided to stay at Wilderness Lodge because 1) We LOVE it there! But beyond that, we tried to justify it by telling ourselves, 2) it is close in proximity to Magic Kingdom, where we planned to spend most of our time. 3) connected by bus and boat (bonus for a pirate-loving boy who thinks every boat in water is a pirate ship) to Magic Kingdom to give is variable transport options. 4) It was close enough we could go back to the hotel for nap time if we wanted without wasting most of the day. 5) We planned to do two events at the Contemporary Hotel which is just a quick boat ride away adding to the convenience, without the even more hefty price tag of being on the monorail like the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian. 6) As a guest staying on Disney property you get Extra Magic Hours. Each day one of the parks either opens early or stays open late and only people staying at a Disney hotel can enter so you have a little bit of crowd control.

Grandma with her little Hook.

Grandma with her little Hook.

My parents drove all the way from Minnesota to meet us down there and it was great to see them when we arrived. One side note tip, if you have anyone traveling with you who has trouble walking long distances, Disney hotels themselves are huge and very tiring to navigate. Each park rents electronic scooters for around $40 a day but they are available only on a first come, first serve basis. Disney has a handful of approved vendors for electronic scooters which deliver them straight to the hotel. Each Disney bus can hold two scooters, and the large boat which transports from Wilderness to Magic Kingdom can hold three. It is a WAY better deal to get the scooter delivered to the hotel by one of the vendors, saving the hassle of waiting in line and saves feet from the stress of large hotel walks. They are dropped off at the hotel, come with a charger, can be parked in the hallway overnight to charge so they don’t take up hotel room space, and the company picks them up. If you run out of battery at a Disney park and forgot the charger, the company comes to the park and gives you a new battery. Awesome service!

Searching for Treasure before meeting Captain Hook.

Searching for Treasure before meeting Captain Hook.

Since we didn’t get to the hotel until about 4, we had not planned to go to a park. In hindsight, it probably would have been cheaper to go to a park than do the event we did, since once you get over a 4-day single park ticket pass it is only about $10 a day to add on additional days. However, our little guy is OBSESSED with Captain Hook and the absolute only guarantee to meet him is on the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage which takes place at the Contemporary Resort. DSC_0067

At $59 per adult and $34 per child (under 3 is free) it was actually more pricey than breakfast in Cinderella’s Castle. For our family, it was worth every penny but certainly wouldn’t be for everyone. It starts at 6:45 p.m., but if you show up around 6:15 to sign in there are a few little activities to do like a scavenger hunt, coloring pages, and simply letting your kids play with other pirate-wanna-be’s. Everyone in the group gets a bandana with the logo and a picture of Captain Hook and Mr. Smee, the stars of the night.

All of us Minnesota pirates.

All of us Minnesota pirates.

At 6:45, you are allowed in to one of the ballrooms at the Contemporary and there are lots of snacks available; cheesecake, dessert bars, bags of chips and popcorn, cotton candy (which our little guy had his first ever bag of and was SO excited), ice cream bars, frozen fruit bars, lemonade, tea. It would be a good idea to grab a simple sandwich or share a pizza ahead of time and plan on eating “side dishes” and desserts there. Up until about 7:15, guests can snack on as much as they want and take pictures with Hook and Smee.

Not the greatest picture but I'm still working on night photography skills.

Not the greatest picture but I’m still working on night photography skills.

About 7:20 everyone lines up at the door and is assigned either a Captain Hook or Mr. Smee boat group. Hook and Smee lead their group down to the boat dock and then wave good bye and “helper” pirates take over the entertainment. It is a small boat (not electronic cart friendly but they can be left on the dock right outside the boat) and heavy blankets are provided if it is chilly outside. The boat parks in the lagoon with a great view of Cinderella’s castle and a gorgeous view of the fireworks display, including the music which accompanies the show inside the Magic Kingdom so the complete choreography can be appreciated.

DSC_0111Upon returning to the dock, there is a photo opportunity with Peter Pan and then the night is over. We were last in line for Peter and finished the evening a little before 9 p.m.

Overall, it was a great event for our family due to the Captain Hook obsession, and a great way to start the trip with a little Disney magic without jumping right in to a theme park excursion. If you do not have any pirate lovers in your family, it may be a good thing to skip since the snacks themselves are not worth the price and you can see the water view of the fireworks by timing a boat ride back to the Magic Kingdom parking lot or back to the Wilderness Lodge for right when they start. It is not possible to hear the music which compliments the fireworks but the changing color castle and fireworks are a show on their own.

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Filed under Family, Kids, Travel, Travel outside MN and Mexico, Travel Tips

The cocooning of today’s children

October 22, 1989. If you are from Minnesota, especially central Minnesota, that date may not initially mean anything to you. Until I mention a name. Jacob Wetterling. Today marks the 24th of his disappearance and though his abduction has never been solved, it is far from forgotten.

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Since my son was born, a little over three years ago, I have been going to ECFE classes (Early Childhood and Family Education) with him and now with my one-year-old daughter as well. I’m not sure if ECFE is a “Minnesota thing” or if it is nationwide but for anyone not familiar with the program, it is aimed at parents and their children age birth through five and is run by the school district. Each school district has a variety of classes on different topics and involving different age groups but the core of the program is based on group play time with parents, circle and song time together and then, most importantly for me, separation time where the parents get to meet with a parent educator and speak on a variety of topics.

One of the topics we often discuss is the cocooning of society. How when we were kids we had freedom to play all around the neighborhood as long as we were home before dark. A freedom many of us do not give our own children. My husband and I have lived on our cul de sac for 11 years and I am embarrassed to admit I only can name and recognize 3 of my neighbors. We moved here for the feeling of security, the dead end street and neighbors with houses full of children.

It is a great place to raise our young family. I have no tangible reason to not trust all of my neighbors. I speak to many of the other moms and dads in classes and they mention living in similar areas and although some of them mention knowing their a larger amount of their neighbors, inevitably, someone states “but how well do you REALLY know your neighbors.” Fair enough. But I have always wondered when did this change in mentality take place? When did this fear creep in?

The instant fierce love that appears at the birth of a child has been around for thousands of years, so the over protection can not be from too much love. The distrust feels deeper, psychological, traumatic, but for me, it was always something I couldn’t exactly put my finger on. Until today. When I saw the news clip about Jacob Wetterling. A little flare of panic lit up in my heart as I looked at my children. And then I realized, there are certain things from your childhood that stay with you, even if you don’t realize it. The case of Jacob Wetterling is one of mine.

There are many reasons I feel connected to the disappearance of Jacob. He was my same age. He was from a small Minnesota town only 30 minutes from home. He was abducted in daylight while riding bike with his friends. All things I could relate to at the time. It was the first time in my young life I realized that someone could take a child or hurt a child… And that it could happen to anyone I know. That it could happen to me. The news was ablaze for weeks, months, and even years with pleas for help, updates, new leads, dead ends, questions and disappointments.

I know this isn’t the only reason I fear the safety of my children. It isn’t the only reason I hover near them at the park, keeping an eye on any strangers, especially those without kids, who seem like they don’t belong. At 2.5 I started talking to my son about strangers and not taking food or treats from them. While there is no way to prepare your children for every possible situation, I feel like I wouldn’t even have thought to start so early speaking of danger if it wasn’t for that day 24 years ago.

Please, keep your porch light on tonight, for Jacob and all the children who have been taken from their parents and never found. Pray for answers and peace to those families and hug your kids extra tight before bed.

Here is a link to more details on the case if you are unfamiliar with it. Jacob Wetterling abduction

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Filed under Family, Kids, Minnesota

Trouble with “spell”ing

My adorable son is currently in a Disney phase. Of course, this is encouraged by his mom and papi’s extreme love of Walt Disney World, where we took our first vacation together and then went two additional times in four years… before we had kids.

Our last trip to Disney World in January 2007.

Our last trip to Disney World in January 2007.

One day at about 2.5 years old, he had the stomach flu, so I put in Peter Pan. Since he started crawling, he’s been pulling DVD’s out of the entertainment center and looking at the pictures on the covers but I had never tried to sit him down for a movie.

After a solid month of Peter Pan obsession, I had a terrible cold and due to one of the endless Minnesota Spring snow storms, my mother was not able to come down and help me with the two little ones. Digging out a pile of Golden Books from my youth, we read Cinderella. He loved the mice and the magic of “Bibbidi Bobiddi Boo.” What does a sick mom do to buy herself at least a few minutes of resting time when home alone with a toddler? Yep, this mom broke out a “new” movie and popped Cinderella in to the DVD player.

Now, I know there is a school of thought out there about Disney “Princess” movies not being for boys. First of all, there are very few Disney full-length animated features without “scary” parts, despite the typical G-rating. Sleeping Beauty has, not only an evil sorceress, but a terrifying, fire-breathing dragon. Beauty and the Beast‘s Beast has some dark, angry outbursts. The queen in Snow White is far from friendly-looking, and the movie is scattered with dark moments. Even The Fox and the Hound has some pretty scary scenes with a bear and the hunter.

Cinderella has actually very few “princess” parts and has virtually no parts that can be construed as scary in my toddler’s mind. When he watched the story, he fell in love with the mice, Gus and Jaq, and laughed hysterically as they

If you look closely you can see the "glass slipper" on Cinderella's slipper. My little man is very resourceful with pantry items during his pretend play.

If you look closely you can see the “glass slipper” on Cinderella’s slipper. My little man is very resourceful with pantry items during his pretend play.

played tricks on “that naughty kitty Lucifer.” In the book, he thought the words “Bibbidi Bobiddi Boo” were silly and giggled when I read them. In the last two months he has watched Cinderella at least 20 times, usually playing the part of the Grand Duke trying glass slippers on his little sister, “Cinderella” and me, “Drizella” or “Anastasia” depending on the day.

One evening last week, we were watching the movie as a family while playing. The fairy godmother scene came on and my son paused and listened as she spoke to Cinderella. All of a sudden he asked me, “Mommy, what is a spell?” Surprised, since I had not even noticed the word in the movie before, I explained as best I could. I noticed an odd-look on my husband’s face but brushed it off. Later, as we were going to bed, he turned to me and said “I’m afraid he will ask me a question like that and I can’t answer it.”

Now, honestly, most of the time I no longer even remember that English isn’t my husband’s first language. His fluency is amazing and his accent seems to be diminishing daily. It surprised me to hear his voice filled with worry over not knowing a word. I think there is a deep-rooted fear in all parents that, one day, our children will view us as unintelligent and lose respect for us. The fear appears more frequently in my husband as my son ages, his vocabulary expands, and his curiosity grows.

My little Grand Duke with version two of a "glass slipper." He's a detail man - cushion and slipper cover just like the movie.

My little Grand Duke with version two of a “glass slipper.” He’s a detail man – cushion and slipper cover just like the movie.

We define my son’s small world in to Mommy’s words (English) and Daddy’s words (Spanish) and he can readily recognize each. We have a growing Spanish children’s book collection, but most of our children’s books are in English. When my husband does the night time routine of reading a couple books with our son, he often has to translate from English to Spanish as he reads. He admits this is getting progressively difficult as my son grows and starts being able to sit still through longer, more densely worded books. If his dad pauses too long to think he quickly gets bored and starts fidgeting.

Besides telling our son to “ask mom when she gets home” when faces with an unknown word, I’m not sure how to help my husband with his concern. His own vocabulary is expanding daily also, and I need to be more aware and conscientious of his concerns and the fact that English is his second language. Does that mean I should be more sympathetic and understanding when we have marital miscommunications? I’ll need to think about that a little more.

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Filed under Family, Kids, Minnesota vs. Mexico

A foreigner at home

Coming in to Mexico City

Ten hours after leaving our house, Mex and I paused to eat our Minnesota Haroldson apples while looking down at the swelling custom’s line. Five flights arriving almost simultaneously created a chaotic scene at the Mexico City airport.

I looked at the two lines, one that said Ciudadanos Mexicanos and one that said Extranjeros, Foreigners.

“How does it feel to be entering Mexico as a foreigner?” I asked.

After a pause, he smiled slowly and said, “Strange.” This is the first time visiting Mexico since he became a US Citizen.

Our 17-month-old son fell asleep as the plane descended, and slept thru his first passport stamp. For the first time in our journeys to Mexico, a member of Mex’s family was waiting for us at the airport. In the past, I’ve always been a little jealous of traveler’s who exit customs (aduanas) in to the arms of happy family members. It was nice to see my sister-in-law Sofia, and eleven-year-old niece Arlin waiting eagerly for us.

It has been two years, almost to the day, since we were last in Mexico. My husband’s father passed away in late August 2009, and to help Mex with his grief, we decided to visit eight weeks later for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). It was one of the most eerily beautiful, touching experiences of my life. When trying to decide a time to visit before our son’s “dreaded” second birthday when he becomes a paying airline traveler, we settled on Day of the Dead over Christmas.

Candy skulls for Day of the Dead

An added bonus for Mex, was the fact that one of the big festivals in his town was Saturday, the day we arrived. One thing I love the most about him is, even though he’s been to Disney World, the Minnesota State Fair and other large festivals in the US, his whole face brightens when he talks about Tianguis, nicknamed Las Naranjas (The Oranges- a very little festival in comparison) and I can see the happiness small celebrations brought in to his impoverished childhood.

Toddler-size mole paddles- that’s mo-lay, the national dish of Mexico, not mole, the wicked little creatures that destroy our lawn. Though the paddles may be useful for those too…

Unfortunately, our son had a fever, congestion, and four hours less sleep than in his normal day so we went rather quickly though the displays. Everyone walking around was dressed up (which, after traveling a total of 14 hours and sleeping only two hours the night before I was way too exhausted to do) and there are vendors selling clay jars, enormous wooden paddles for mole,  tamarind and nut candies, clothing, fruit, toys… There were people serving up fresh potato chips, tacos on tiny 4-inch corn tortillas (always doubled), pozole in big bowls , large slices of thick-crust pizza (with nine types of hot sauce to drizzle on top), rich vanilla ice cream on miniature cones, and of course, piles of oranges which Mex claims are the sweetest of the entire year.

In the small plaza area by the elementary school were some carnival rides. The two-story Ferris wheel,  mini kids roller coaster, and a rather rickety version of the tilt-a-whirl seemed to be the favorites. It was great people watching and, as always, entertaining to be “watched” ourselves. It was funny to see people look at Mex carrying our son (who is pale like his mom), see the wrinkled eyebrows, glance at me trailing just a little bit behind and almost shake their heads like “oh, that explains it!”

Just after our son was born he had jaundice which gave his skin a yellow brown tone darkening him to Mex’s color. When I would take him to Barnes and Noble so I could have a Frappucino and get out of the house, usually an older-than-me (my definition of “older” seems to change rapidly with each year that goes by) woman tell me how cute he was and then flow right on with “What is his dad?” Now of course I realize they meant what ethnicity but I just always found the phrasing of the question interesting. I have a friend who is married to a Korean man and she has had people assume her children are adopted, since Korea is one of the most popular countries to adopt from in Minnesota. All I can say, is it certainly is… interesting… the observations that come from the mouths of complete strangers.

Anyone can toss up a foodstand at the fiesta

Deciding we had to put our baby boy to bed after his long day and high fever, we left without doing any activities or munching any delicious snacks. An hour-long struggle at bed time, meant the weary little traveler ended up in bed with his mom while dad went to enjoy the fiesta with his sister’s. He came back at 12:15 a.m. with stories of near-death experiences on carnival rides and mini tacos.

“Was it as good as you remember?” I asked, before biting in to my still-warm chicken taco.

“Oh, yes!” he exclaimed instantly, his eyes lighting up as if reliving all the excitement of childhood in one momentous flash.

After 16 years living in the United States, marrying a Minnesotan, becoming a US citizen, and travelling across the US and in Europe, few things bring innocent joy to his face like reliving his youth in the little town of Tetelilla, Morelos, Mexico.

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Filed under Bicultural and biracial marriage, Family, Holidays and Celebrations, Mexican culture, Mexico, Morelos State, Tetelilla, Morelos

Quinceañera in Minnesota

The beautiful 15th birthday girl.

Two weeks ago we attended our first Minnesota quinceañera. The Quinceañera (15th birthday girl) was Mex’s great niece and, although we had a three week old in tow, I didn’t want to miss the event. In Mexico, a girl’s 15th birthday is like an American Sweet 16 party on steroids. The closest American event it compares to in size and ceremony is a wedding (or at least events traditional in my family). Fifteen is the age in Mexico where girls make the transformation from a young girl in to women. Traditionally, this was the age they were considered ready for marriage (the marriage readiness is not really the case in modern Mexico where education is becoming more valued and girls are more encouraged to attend college).

Amazing cake!

We arrived to the church pretty late so did not see much of the ceremony or prayers. There were a few family pictures and then everyone left the church to go to Plaza Verde on Lake Street for the reception party. I am so glad we got there early because soon after we arrived, the Plaza security stopped allowing people to enter because the reception hall was over capacity with almost 400 people in attendance. There was a mariachi band and a DJ, but the music was extremely loud for our little boy. I tried to wrap a blanket around his tiny ears to block some of the sound but we ended up not staying very long.

There was a head table where the quinceañera and her Court of Honor sit. This consists of chambelanes (her closest guy friends, usually around six) and her closest

Her last doll, dressed in a purple gown to match the birthday girl, and the head table.

girl friends or family members with whom she wants to share the spotlight. Many items are traditionally used in the ceremony such as a tiara, scepter, bible, and last doll. The last doll is used as part of the ceremony, representing the last of her childhood items because now she must focus on being a young lady.

There are many traditions throughout the celebration. The chambelanes participate with the birthday girl in a series of dances that start off the evening. Then there is a Changing of the Shoes, where the father and mother change the young girl’s flat shoes to high heels, symbolizing the Quinceañera’s transformation from a little girl to a young lady. It is also traditional for the parents to replace the headpiece worn by the girl during the church ceremony with a Tiara. This makes her a “princess” before God and the world, giving her the ability to face challenges in her future.

One of the traditional dances.

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Filed under Family, Hispanic-Latino events in MN, Holidays and Celebrations, Mexican culture

What’s in a name?

So throughout my pregnancy my husband and I have gone through a number of name discussions. We had our girl’s name picked out almost immediately. The boy’s name was much harder. Of course, due to our difficulty in agreeing on a name, we were not surprised when the ultrasound tech told us we were having a boy. Well, actually she sealed it in an envelope and we “discussed” opening it (I persuaded, he determinedly refused) for three weeks until he finally gave in. We have since agreed on a name for our little boy… a first name that is…

Baby boy at 20 weeks

Our Minnesota and Mexico mixing lead us down another path of name discussion. When we got married, I kept my traditional Scandinavian last name with the -son. I am in real estate where name recognition is a large part of business so I decided to take the “easy route” and not change. However, there is no doubt in my mind that any children of ours would have my husband’s family name and rock the “z” (the Mexican equivalent of -son, Lopez, Hernandez, Vasquez, Dominguez, similar to Johnson, Anderson, Peterson). I never thought this would lead to any sort of discussion or argument until he told me one day that the baby would be have my last name. I was surprised and even more surprised when I realized he was completely serious and determined.

Up until three weeks ago I was adamant about the baby taking my husband’s name and would not even consider any other idea on grounds of being so untraditional. When we both want to focus on the positive of being bicultural and teach him to be proud of his Mexican heritage, not giving him his father’s name seems very contradictory to that message. However, the legislation in Arizona that the governor signed into law on April 23rd, made me see his side of the argument for the first time.

Known as SB1070, the law gives Arizona police the right to question anyone who “appears to be illegal” and require them to prove legal status on the spot. Legal residents are required to carry their green cards at all times or face 6 months in jail and/or a $2500 fine if they are caught without one. Of course, that is after the person has been detained until they have proved their status. Now, my husband was told by our attorney to always carry his green card so I don’t really see that as a big issue. What upsets me is that we could be on vacation in Arizona and he decides to run across the street from our hotel and pick up a pop and snack so just grabs a few bucks and leaves his wallet behind. Meanwhile a crabby cop is filling up his squad car and decides Mex looks suspicious and asks him to prove his status. Since he doesn’t have his green card he is now detained and fined and possibly jailed… All because of his cinnamon skin, black hair and accent.

I do agree that something needs to be done to solve the undocumented worker issue and the drug problems along the border. However, I do not believe the argument that there will be no racial profiling. When my parents, husband and I came back from El Paso we reached a border control checkpoint. The guard stopped us and asked us all for our status. My parents and I said we were citizens and Mex said he was a permanent resident. The border guard did not ask for any of our US passports but made Mex show his papers. Maybe this was because of his non-citizen status but I tend to believe it was due to the color of his skin versus ours. I hope that when he becomes a citizen we get in a similar situation so I can test my theory.

During week surrounding the controversial Arizona SB1070, there was also an uptick in news reports about hate crimes regarding Latinos. In March, there was a group of teenage Caucasians accused of beating and killing a man in New York on a night of “beaner hopping” as they called it. Also, there was a story with video of a Guatemalan man laying on a New York street bleeding. The video showed more than six people walking by and looking at him, one person even snapping pictures, with not a single one calling for help or checking to see if he was alive.

The idea of anyone looking at my husband and making assumptions about him based on the color of his skin or his accent gives me extreme pain. I know when he fills out his name on an application the person on the other end automatically knows his ethnicity and could possibly be making conclusions about his legal status. Laying in bed and watching the reports of hate crimes against Latinos and discussions of racial profiling, we are both saddened. Though the thought of my husband being judged and given a hard time because of his name or color, the idea of our child facing discrimination is unbearable to both of us. I finally see why he thinks it would be “better” for our child to be have my less controversial Scandinavian last name. Seeing his name on paper would conjure a different image with my name versus his. My husband has dealt with prejudice and bias based on his name for the last 15 years and he doesn’t want his son to be given a hard time or lose out on opportunities because if something we can control.

How do we choose? Can we have it both ways? Can we teach him to be proud of his name and heritage while still protecting him from prejudice and racial hatred? We will try by giving him a Scandinavian middle name and his father’s last name. Today is the 60th anniversary of the historic supreme court case of Brown vs. Board of Education that was supposed to end racial segregation in the US. The news report was showing inner city schools and the high percentage of minorities that attend them versus the more “white” suburban schools. It was an interesting story and opened my eyes more than ever before since both my husband and child will be minorities. It makes my heart hurt to think of the difference in how my husband and I are perceived and treated and I dread the first time I discover my son is treated unequally due to his race.

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Filed under Family, Minnesota vs. Mexico

Day of the Dead







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Filed under Family, Holidays and Celebrations, Mexican culture, Mexico, Tetelilla, Morelos