Category Archives: Bicultural and biracial marriage

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

Just a gringa

Well, I’m sad to say that I’ve discovered no matter how much Spanish I speak or books I read about Mexican culture, in the end I’ll still be a gringa. Now I’ll say up front that those are not my husband’s words because if they were, he would be on the couch indefinitely. He has always asked me why I married a Mexican and if I ever wish I married an American. He usually brings up the question after a bad cultural experience, like when his boss for a day at Gastof’s harassed him about our relationship, or when there is an immigration raid somewhere in the country. I take his questions as more of a reflection on his self-esteem when it comes to being a Mexican and it saddens me greatly.

It’s a hard line to walk from my side. I knew where he was from and his situation before our first date so I had already made a conscious decision not to let any of that be a factor in our relationship. I DO care that he is Mexican though, in the way that I want to learn his culture and language and history so I can appreciate where he is from and where his family still lives. I want our future kids to love their Mexican heritage and look forward to visits south of the border. I’ve spent hours studying Spanish and taking classes. I have read many books on Mexican history or on Mexican’s in the US. I really do try to be patient with the cultural differences such as time (that’s the most different).

My disappointing discovery last weekend was that despite all this effort, his family will always consider me a gringa. They would never tell me this but my husband was talking with his brother Gigio about some things and told him I would like to help him and the family. His brother told him that he likes me but he would never let me help because “I can’t understand because I’m an American.” Of course, he said it in Spanish but that was the translation that Mex told me later. The topic in question was something that I pride myself very much on knowing a lot about (as it is my career). My initial reaction was anger which Mex experienced the entire car ride home. Then I was sad. So sad and disappointed. I know it isn’t how Mex feels and I know our relationship is as “race free” as any biracial couple can truly be but I thought I was making more progress with his family. How can they like me if they don’t think I understand them? Even after Mex’s intense immigration process last year.

A week later I’m still sad. Now I’m also confused and worried, not about us but about children. I want them to feel comfortable everywhere and his brother’s comment scares me and makes me feel like they are going to feel like they don’t fit in anywhere. They’re American but not white like their mom. They are Mexican but not really Mexican like their dad. Where do they fit? Will they resent me or him or both of us? Whew…. a lot to worry about when there aren’t even any kids on the horizon. Maybe I should stop for the evening and just enjoy the time at the lake while summer still lasts! Good night from the Gringa.

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Filed under Bicultural and biracial marriage, Family, Marital Issues, Mexican culture, Minnesota vs. Mexico, Minnesotan/American culture

My Culture Event speech

Here is my speech from the culture event in Elk River.

“Ethnically, I am of European descent, mostly Scandinavian with a little German and Irish thrown in. Even though the last of my ancestors immigrated to the US in the late 1880’s, I still prefer to quote the percentages of my heritage rather than simply saying “I’m American.” I was raised on a large farm in central Minnesota, an expansion of the farmstead my great-grandparents purchased in 1886 after arriving from Sweden.

With so many generations here in the United States, it is hard for me to know which of our family traditions have to do with our ethnic heritage and which are just “the way we do things.” There are obvious connectors to the past like the  Swedish meatballs, lefse, and kroom kaka served at Christmas dinner when I was a child. Now as my grandmother enters her 100th year of life and can no longer cook on her own, the lefse comes from the super market, always purchased as an afterthought, and the kroom kaka has disappeared altogether.

In 2001, in the spirit of my Norwegian grandmother who was brave enough to marry a Swede, I started a bicultural relationship of my own. My husband is from Mexico. Our relationship started like every other one. The awkward getting to know you questions, speaking about our childhood, learning each other’s likes and dislikes. There were obstacles we expected to encounter such as occasional language barriers, battling our personal expectations of what a “Mexican” and an “American” act like, and the awkwardness we would each feel around each others friends and family.

Then there were the unexpected things. The way servers in restaurants seemed to always ask me for both of our orders, only glancing briefly at him, assuming he spoke little English. There were the not so subtle stares as we held hands going through the mall. The most shocking thing for me was the intense and completely brazen curiosity of almost every person who found out my boyfriend (and later, my husband) was from Mexico. Once I mentioned that fact, the very next question out of 2/3s of people was “Is he illegal?”

The first time someone asked me that I could not stop my mouth from dropping wide open in shock. Each time I was asked that, the person would look at me expectantly not realizing how completely offensive and hurtful that question and assumption are to both me and my husband. To us, it feels like an intrusion into our deepest personal lives and a dismissal of our love. For my husband, it makes him feel like people wanted to know his status so they could judge him before even knowing what kind of person he is. To me, it felt like they were telling me I was not worthy of love, just a means to an end for this man from Mexico. He did not want me to visit him at work because his American and Latino co-workers would immediately start harassing him about having an American wife and ask “why” we got married. I still do not understand why anyone would assume that just because he is from Mexico and I am from the United States that our motive for marriage would be anything other than love, just like every other couple who makes the commitment.

I never answered the question of his immigration status. Not once. Once I was able to contain my shocked expression, I would simply look at the individual and say “I’ve never asked. Should that be important?”

We have been married for three years now and are over most of the cultural hurdles. We are both eager and open to new experiences and patient with each other, which I believe are the keys to success in a cross-cultural relationship. Our different upbringings in small towns 2500 miles apart shaped who we were when we met. Now our understanding, frequent compromises and desire to evenly balance both our cultures into one family will shape who we will be together.”

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Filed under Bicultural and biracial marriage, Immigration, Marital Issues, Minnesota, Minnesotan/American culture

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

A restaurant I will never visit

Well, I haven’t posted anything for a long time and thought I should get one more in by the end of the month. These last couple weeks have been crazy. Mex is working at his old job but he also worked at a German restaurant in NE Minneapolis for a day. While he was at work the owner asked him about his wife, if she was American, and had he married me to get his visa. He asked these questions multiple times and in front of other employees. Now let me just vent for a little while…

First of all, clearly if he had met me he would quickly realize Mex married me for my charm, humor, intelligence, good looks and all that other stuff… =) What really pisses me off is that because I am American and he is Mexican, people belittle our entire relationship and think Mex had a motive for marrying me (other than the above mentioned wonderful qualities). Never mind the fact that I was the one bringing up the marriage issue after 5 years of dating and he was content to continue our relationship as it was. His parents were together for over 20 years and had 12 kids and were never married. Marriage is for the “rich” in Mexico, Mex says. The person you love and are with is your husband/wife with or without the ceremony.

Another thing that I find completely offensive is when I say my husband/boyfriend is from Mexico 80% of people respond with the question “Is he legal?” What kind of question is that? What about “How did you meet?” “How does he treat you?” “What does he do for a living?” “How old is he?” Even complete strangers will ask me that question. Doesn’t anyone else think that is offensive? Is legality or illegality all a Mexican citizen has to offer for an identity? I feel like the people who ask me that question are waiting for an answer from me and, based on that answer, they will already have their opinions about Mex formed without even setting eyes on him or starting up a conversation. For me that question is as personal as asking to see someone’s tax returns from the previous year, or quizing them about details in their bedroom affairs.

One of my other favorites is “How did he get here?” People ask that question and it seems like they are waiting to hear of a harrowing trek through the desert dodging bullets and almost dying of thirst. It seems like such a morbid question. Why not ask him “Why he came to the US?” “When did he come?” No one asks “How.” ummm… a plane, bus, car, taxi…. really… “How” is about transportation and I wouldn’t ask someone from England or Australia to tell me “How” they got to the US.

I realize I’m ranting so I will stop at this point. I just have been very upset by that boss of Mex’s. Mex came home feeling like absolute crap. Like he was worthless. Like his 8 years of cooking skills didn’t matter. His 13 years of learning English didn’t matter. We both felt dirty, sick, sad, like our love didn’t matter. Like all the challenges we’ve overcome these past eight years and especially past six months were for nothing.

All because some jerk decided to put us in a box and judge us by our nationality. That’s the power of a “pendejo,” pardon my Spanish.

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Filed under Bicultural and biracial marriage, Immigration, Marital Issues, Minnesota vs. Mexico, Minnesotan/American culture, Permanent Resident Visa/Green card

Flooding memories

Mex and I have some friends that are going throught the same exact process we went through. She just called last night to tell me her husband got his interview notice for July 1st. When she said that I felt sympathy knots in my stomach and the memories of that first week of February flooded back to me…

The mixture of fear and joy when we actually had the date in our hands. The intense panic because we didn’t feel prepared and had so much information to gather. The anxiety over how in the world it was possible to get everything done in a month while still working and squeeking out every last penny you can. The excitement to see Mexico with my husband and meet the family I had heard about for so long. The gut-twisting terror that things wouldn’t work out as we had planned and he may have to stay there.

Those feelings begin tossing us around like a canoe in the ocean from the minute we saw the deadline in black and white on the paper. It wouldn’t have mattered if we had every single paper in order and all of our travel plans made… Just like it didn’t matter that we had been planning to do this before we were even engaged… Over three years of knowing what was necessary to have my husband become a Permanent Legal Resident. I’ve decided that even though it is possible to prepare financially or physically for this, or any challenge in life, it is impossible to completely prepare yourself emotionally.

It reminds me of what another friend told me when she talked about having a child… “I don’t feel ready, but I didn’t last year either. I could keep waiting but, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel ready so we just decided to do it.” Now she is the proud mother of the cutest twin baby girls ever and is comfortable in her new role. I bet she can’t imagine the world without her girls now and those pre-pregnancy worries seem far away. We weren’t “ready” for my husband’s interview notice either but now we can’t believe we dragged out the process for so long. Looking back, it was easy to “wait” before we got his interview date… It was stressful and exhausting from the point of our notice until his actual second interview… But now, we can enjoy life and each other without the shadow that followed us for our entire relationship. We can tour Europe if we want to or hop on a plane to Mexico at any time… Mex can open a retirement account and I can finally make him the beneficiary on all of mine. The little things we didn’t even realize we worried about are now gone… of course we still get to have all the fun ‘discussions’ like “who left the toilet seat up?” “whose turn is it to clean the bathroom?” “you drive like a crazy person!” oh the joys of being together!

Our thoughts and prayers go out to our friends and we look forward to helping them prepare for this exciting (but highly stressful) time.

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Filed under Bicultural and biracial marriage, Immigration, Permanent Resident Visa/Green card

This blogger’s beginning

Well, here it is… my very first foray into the blogging world. I told my good friend I had decided to start a blog and immediately I felt like I was playing paintball with my nephew. What is your blog about? Splat. I haven’t decided for sure. What is your focus? Splat. I don’t know. Well, what are you going to write about? Splat. Hell-ooo, I said I’m not sure. How often are you going to write? How are you going to get readers? What is your design like? Are you going to post pictures? Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Uhhh… maybe this wasn’t a good idea.

Seriously… Is blogging really that complicated? I thought I could just type in some thoughts, insert some pictures and share it with friends. Now I find out that is a whole science behind it. A standard. Even awards for blogs! I’m on the verge of 30, straddling the X and Y generation, the two most tech savvy groups alive and I feel like my almost 70-year-old dad is starting to teach me about the internet. A disturbing thought since I’ve been on the internet since 1994 and he didn’t even understand email until about nine months ago. Now he shops eBay, google earth’s real estate properties, checks emails more than I do… crazy. At least I can still beat him in a typing contest.

In truth, I have thought about the topic of my blog. I chose the name  “Minnesota and Mexico Mix” with the intent of sharing some stories about my mixed marriage. I am a Minnesota girl, 3/4 Scandinavian and 1/4 “mutt” as my grandpa always called himself – a pinch of German, Irish, French-Canadian or Dutch (that part is unsure due to a family scandal from the 1880’s). I grew up on a dairy farm that I truly believed didn’t have an odor, lived in a rural community where everybody knew everything about you, had about 50 family members within a 20-minute drive, ate hot dish instead of casseroles and drank pop instead of soda. According to my friends, I also have a very distinct Minnesota “O-hhh.”

My husband is also from a small town… about 2000 miles south in Morelos, Mexico. His family farm was full of vegetables and fruits (which smelled better than my cows, I’m sure). Like my town, information about neighbors spread as fast as the wind could blow.  He grew up with 10 family members living in a two room house, ate tortillas with every meal, walked everywhere he needed to go, had no running water and a dirt floor kitchen.

Different countries, different cultures, meeting and marrying here in Minnesota. Our journey together these past six years has been filled with communication speed bumps and cultural adjustments. Probably there is just as much compromise and understanding in our relationship as in any other. The thing that I believe is different in a mixed relationship is the heightened level of tolerance and acceptance that is necessary, not only by each of us, but by our families.

There are many anecdotes about our learning process I plan on using this blog to share and hopefully benefitting others in our situation. My husband and I recently met a couple that mirrored our situation and spent an evening with them. It was amazing how similar our experiences with each other and our families are. In fact, we had so many of the same stories to share that it was a little eerie. It was a wonderful pleasure to spend time with them laughing over the challenges we’ve all overcome and musing over the ones in our futures.

The cultural differences between a Minnesotan and a Mexican are very real, but not insurmountable. We are having fun figuring things out and look forward to the next few months of traveling.

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Filed under Bicultural and biracial marriage, Marital Issues, Minnesota vs. Mexico