Category Archives: Mexican culture

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

Day of the Dead

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

Sadness travels too

There are certain things that stick with me from our last trip to Mexico. The most vibrant and sad image is the one I saw every evening. Three of my husband’s sisters curled together on a mattress on the floor of their dad’s room. Sleeping in their clothes from the day, jeans and bare feet sticking out from under the blanket. A jumble of arms and legs each overlapping the other. As one sister shifts and turns, the other two instinctively turn also, throwing a leg over one sister and an arm over the other though I hear their quiet snores even as they move in unison. I tease my husband that he is just like his sisters. He sleeps the same way, always tossing an arm or leg around me, needing contact. As soon as I hear his snores I wiggle loose, immediately he senses it and shifts to throw his appendage back. Even though we’ve slept like this for 8 years, now when I feel the pressure of his leg on mine I feel a sense of loneliness and sadness that I never felt before. I picture his sisters in Mexico on the floor and wonder if they are still sleeping that way.

I remember the mariachis and their somber processional. There is such ceremony in a Mexican funeral. People dress in jeans or everyday clothes, some in black shirts but not many. The walk from the church to the cemetery was about 12 blocks. There was something so deeply sad about the procession. The combination of the music and the intense labor of four men carrying the casket on their shoulders. I can’t hear the music any more in my head but when I close my eyes I feel the sweat trace down my face as I put my arm around Ely, the sister who is my age almost exactly. I know how alone she feels. She is the only one of the 10 siblings who is not married and does not have children. Her father was the most important person in her life.

The sense of love and respect the people around me have for my father-in-law overwhelms me. There is something primitive and deeply respectful about carrying the casket by hand. The primitive side stirs something deep inside me that I never felt before when surrounded by death. Especially when we enter the cemetery and see the rawness of the rectangular hole and the mounds of fresh dirt. The roots of the nearby tree show down deep into the hole. This stood out later in my mind when his sisters were discussing how they worried about the large tree at the base of their mother and father’s grave. I don’t know what kind it is but they worried because the roots grow really big and they don’t want them to bother their parents as they rest. When I saw the large tree I remember being thankful that there was shade over his parents and shade over the visitors. It just seems right that in death, the get to be an a place surrounded by shade, since it is such a rarity in this part of Mexico to find a cool spot to rest.

His sister Filo told us how when his father died, all five of his daughter’s and his one son that were in Mexico were laying in bed with him. How different from most death’s in the United States which happen in a nursing home or hospital with only strangers as witnesses. Apparently, that morning when Ely had checked on him he wasn’t breathing and she shook him awake. During one conversation I think I overheard her saying that she felt guilty for bringing him back to life if it was really his time. I wanted to tell her that it was a blessing she woke him up and he was able to stay alive until 3 pm.

If he had died that morning I would have had to go to my husband’s work to tell him instead of giving him the news in the privacy of our home. If she had called too late we wouldn’t have been able to see him at all. We may have been able to get to Mexico that day if she had called soon after his death so we could have seen him a little more and mourned in the house with his family. However, a part of me is glad we arrived after he was in the church and didn’t see him laying in his bedroom. Right now the last image I have of him alive is in July when I hugged him goodbye as he sat in his doorway in a blue plastic chair. I wouldn’t want that image replaced with one of him in a coffin with everyone sobbing around it.

Almost every day last week when my husband came home from work he said to me “I’m sad today. I couldn’t stop thinking about my dad.” It hurts me because I have had nightmares for as long as I can remember (back to elementary school) of my parents dying and I know the terrified feeling I have when I wake up in the morning after those dreams. Unfortunately, this is not something that he can wake up from. I used our frequent flyer miles to buy us tickets to go to Mexico for Day of the Dead this year. The first year after someone passes away is the most important and it is such a huge part of Mexican culture so I knew he wanted to spend the time with his sister’s. I know that some day he will take care of me when I need him to.

The following photos are the way I want to choose to remember my father-in-law and since none of you have ever met him, here are my favorite images. He would have been 74 on October 21st.


Filed under Family, Mexican culture, Mexico, Tetelilla, Morelos

The beauty of death in Mexico

The call came at 6:54 pm on Tuesday. I saw the number and I knew instantly what it meant. ” mi papá falleció,” Ely said in a broken voice. I tried to tell her I was sorry and that her brother wasn’t at home right now and I would have him call at 7:30 when he got back from school. I tried to tell her we would be there tomorrow and not to worry. I’m not sure what I actually said or what she heard because suddenly she was gone.

My mind filled with so many thoughts simultaneously… A choking sadness that we wouldn’t see him another time. A deep gratitude that we both spoke with him on Saturday and gave him our thanks for his gifts to us, though he could no longer answer back. A tremendous panic that I was responsible to get my husband to Mexico. I took a deep breath and turned on the computer.

We knew of his father’s failing health. In July, when we last visited, he was just starting to decline. He had lost his ability to walk and needed help to get himself out of bed. After speaking to his family one night in early August, my husband was so sad that I instantly purchased tickets for Labor Day weekend. It was only going to be a short visit but he wanted so badly to see his father again that those 48 hours in Mexico would be precious. Sadly, Hilario couldn’t wait those ten more days though his daughter’s kept telling him that his son  would be visiting him on September 4th. Solamente 10 días más ‘apá. Solamente 10 días. Only 10 more days papa. Ten more days.

After finding out our available options for changing our flight I sat down on the couch and waited. He called and asked me how many tickets he should buy at the grocery store for the State Fair. “Just come home, honey. I’ll get the tickets tomorrow,” I said. “But I’m almost there,” he said sounding frustrated with my change of mind since an hour earlier when we spoke I had insisted he stop and pick up the tickets and coupon book for our Thursday night at the fair. “Just come home sweetie. I’m sorry I changed my mind.” A few minutes later he came in the door and I asked him to come down stairs and sit next to me. He was cautious, like a kid who knows they are in trouble but not quite sure why. As he sat next to me I felt the tears fill my eyes. “Sweetheart, Ely called. Your father passed away today.”

The change on his face was instant, almost before I had finished the sentence. The cry of complete agony that came from him jolted my heart like a lightning bold. He pressed his face to the pillow and sobbed not wanting me to touch him, not wanting comfort. His mother had died when he was 15 and spending time with his father was the most important reason he had for going to Mexico. We had both seen the decline in his father since our first visit in March of 2008, a mere 17 months before his death. When we had left in July, he was crying as he hugged his father and as our taxi pulled away he said, “I feel like this is the last time I will see my dad.” How terrible that he was right. “I’m sorry he didn’t wait for you, honey,” I say now as I pat his back. “But you know he was proud of you.”

After a few moments when the initial wave of despair had softened, I told him that I already called the airlines but that he needed to call Mexico and ask about the details of the funeral so I would know what flight we needed to take. I handed him my phone and he called, finding out that the church ceremony was going to be at 3pm the next day and the cemetery at 4pm. “That’s so early,” I said worriedly, knowing our flight options were slim. “They have to have the body in the ground within 24 hours,” he said. “Can we go tonight?” It was already almost 8 pm and there was no way we could get packed and get a flight to Mexico for the same evening. The earliest we could get to Mexico City was 1pm in the afternoon. That gave me some hope because I knew the taxi ride was around two hours to his town which would put us there at 3 pm.

The rest of the evening seemed to pass slowly and quickly at the same time. We packed our suitcases, my mother arrived to spend the night so she could take us to the airport at 5 am, I emailed some clients letting them know I would be gone for the next week. At about 11 pm we left our house and drove to Minnepolis so we could tell his two brothers the news. First we went to his younger brother Roni’s house and waited for him to return from work. After we told him, we went to Gigio’s house and waited for him until 12:30am. He was in the United States when his mother died also but that time his sister’s hadn’t even told him how seriously ill she was. After we returned home at 2 am we tried to sleep. I don’t know if either of us slept much between then and 4 am when we had to get up to go to the airport.

Sleeping on the plane the next morning was impossible. Most of the ride we passed in silence just holding hands. We plotted each moment at the airport to make sure we made our 28-minute connection in Houston and got from plane, thru customs, to taxi in Mexico City in less than 20 minutes. Somebody was watching over us because our taxi got us to Tetelilla a few minutes after 3. We stopped at his house and put our suitcases in what has become our room and then had the taxi take us to the church. As we stepped out of the taxi I saw my brother-in-law Alejandro and nine-year-old son Fernando sitting outside of the church and the backs of others – our nephews Edgar and Jaime and many people I didn’t recognize.

My husband and I stood at the back of the church and saw the wood coffin with light purple satin gathered along the sides and dark purple velvet edging and cross along the top. Filo, Ely, Abelina and Sofia were standing one at each corner of the coffin. As we stood there at the back of the church I told him to go up with his sisters. He pushed through the back few people and stood there waiting with his hands folded. His nephew Edgar came back and took us to the front of the small church where we sat for a few moments in the second row. With only one pew on each side of the aisle, large enough to hold 4 or 5 people and about 20 rows deep, the church was full to the bursting point with people in mourning.

Sadness spilled down my husband’s cheeks as his sister Abelina on his right and Filo and Sofia in front turned around and tried to comfort him. I noticed that the people at the corners of the coffin were switching. Soon Filo, the oldest sister, tapped my husband, and me also, told us to go to his dad and stand. We stood at the front by his feet, closest to the altar. I focused on the Jesus statue trying to control my tears not even trying to understand the Spanish. After that I tried counting the flower arrangements which covered the entire front of the church. The top of the coffin was in the shape of a cross where it would cover his head. The velvet cross was open and you could see his face through a plastic window.

It looked smoother than I remember. The cotton put in the nostrils seemed to have broken his nose giving it a small bump I hadn’t seen before but otherwise it was the same face we had seen just 6 weeks earlier. We stood at his feet for the rest of the service while the people behind us took turns switching and silently showing their love and respect. Mariachis were playing from the back of the church on the second floor where a pipe organ would usually sit. At the end of the service all the siblings and spouses and grandchildren came to the front of the church and opened the plastic window to say good bye. Afterwards they lowered the velvet cross and closed the coffin.

Gently, his coffin was lifted up on the shoulders of four men who carried him out of the church as everyone followed. People took the flowers from the church and carried them, surrounding the coffin on either side as the mariachi’s followed playing a somber processional. Periodically the procession would pause as the men carrying switched, to rest from the weight and the intense heat. “You are going to get sunburned,” my husband said to me. I told him not to worry about me right now but that I know how much he loves me and wants to take care of me and his dad would be proud of the man he is.

At the cemetery everyone paused at the metal gates to allow Hilario to pass first. We walked through to the front where there is a cement slab with a cross. I was looking at the graves as we passed and noticed one wooden cross painted with bright white letters 5 feb, and the year my husband was born. “Look sweetheart, that person died on your birthday,” I exclaimed before realizing it was inappropriate. He did look with me and acknowledge my comment.

As we neared the front of the cemetery I saw the hole dug next to my husband’s mother and sister Hilaria, where Hilario’s father and brother were buried. There were two black garbage bags tied shut next to the tree and some rope and shovels. The men put his dad on the cement table and opened the coffin. There Filo, the oldest daughter, straightened his body and arranged him with the same love she had given him in life. Then she took a glass of water and used a flower to sprinkle drops of water on his body while she spoke to him. Each person in the family took turns with the glass, sprinkling water as they said a final goodbye and giving him a kiss on the forehead. All the while the mariachis were playing their somber music.

When everyone was done Filo put his favorite hat inside with him and closed the coffin. The same men picked up the coffin and carried it to the mound of dirt next to the grave while my husband’s brother Alejandro, nephew Jaime and brother-in-laws Leonardo and Eligio wrapped the bright blue rope around it. I realized in surprise that we were going to stay there while they actually covered his body, something I had never seen before.

The rope was looped just once on each end of the coffin and the men lowered it in slowly. Towards the bottom the coffin started to tilt slightly to one side and I worried that it would tip all the way. I kept thinking how his sister must want to go down there and fix her dad again. How terribly sad to watch. Then someone jumped in and straightened the coffin and unlooped the ropes. Alejandro picked up a shovel and started to throw dirt in. Ely, the younger daughter collapsed in to her friend. Everyone’s face ran with tears. Katy clung to her older brother Edgar. Neto stood on the other side with his girlfriend. After a foot or so of dirt was on top, Alejandro threw in the two black garbage bags and it wasn’t until then I realized those were the remains of Hilario’s father and brother which had been recovered when the hole was dug.

When the hole was filled rocks were piled on top and around the edge. Alejandro replaced the crosses of Hilario’s dad and brother and the family helped cover the entire grave with flowers. Everyone started to leave until it was only my husband and I. Then Alejandro came back and sat on a large rock at the foot of the grave. My husband said goodbye to his dad. Told him he had a good life and raised good children and thanked him for all that he gave his children and grandchildren, his voice cracking as he spoke. Tears streamed down Ale’s face as Fernando came back to sit by his dad.

We started to walk back together and passed the grave I had seen on the way in. “Your birthday,” I said again. “Somebody died when I was born,” he said. One life ends as another begins.

We returned to the house where people were sitting at tables under a blue tarp eating. My husband and I went down the street to Sofia’s house for a few moments of privacy. After about 15 minutes we came back and sat in the kitchen having some rice, hard boiled eggs, and tortillas, very different from a Lutheran funeral lunch of hotdishes and assorted bars. He visited with people in the kitchen. He saw his sister Ely laying on the bed and tried to comfort her. She wasn’t crying just exhausted after four nights of staying up to take care of her dad.

All evening people pass in and out of Hilario’s room sitting in chairs and talking and praying. Once everyone left, just as it was getting dark we finally went into his father’s bedroom. There was a table draped in black where his body had rested from the time of his death until his coffin was carried to the church 24 hours later. Covered in flowers, a black crucifix was at the head underneath a photo of his parents taken before their first child. The thick, heavy smell of incense overwhelmed my nostrils as I entered the room. A heavy wooden cross which will become his grave marker is laid down the center of the table. On the left side of the cross amongst all the flowers is a glass of water and plate with two tortillas. On the right side is a little jar of beans, and his glass of chocolate with sweet bread resting on top. These are called ofrendas and they are at one time the thing I find most beautiful and most heartbreaking about death in Mexico. Every morning one of the daughters prepares the fresh food for his dad and brings it to him just as if he were alive.

Candles lighted on top and underneath the table along with a small light so you could see the picture of his parents on the wall even in the dark. We sat talking to Filo while she told Mex about his father’s last days. She told Mex how his father would always look at the picture on the wall of his four sons that we had brought for him in July. It was his wish to one day have all of his children and grandchildren together with him but that is one of the great tragedies of the Mexican. In order to support a family it is often necessary to leave and go to the US to send money home. The terrible sacrifice is that person then gives up the ability to return to be with family, even when death occurs. I’m thankful that we brought him that photo so he felt close to the three sons that were in the US and unable to be with him.

The flickering candles made the top of the black cross appear like a skull. Someone has to always be sitting in the room and awake so his father isn’t lonely. Even Karla had stayed home from the funeral procession to keep him company in the room. Mex carried a mattress in there and his sister Sofia slept there while he stayed awake until 4 am when I made him wake a sister to replace him. For 8 days there is someone always in the room with his dad’s spirit, awake 24 hours a day.

Every night at 8 pm people from town come to pray and bring flowers. Each day as word spreads around town more and more people show up. Now the room is almost so full of flowers that it is hard to fit the mattress. Each night my husband and I sit in his dad’s room and watch his sister’s sleep on the mattress laid on the floor, holding each other and trying to fill the loneliness. One night Ely, Filo, Sofia and Arlin all squeezed onto one full-size mattress. On the eighth day after the funeral they carry what is left of the flowers over to the cemetery along with the cross to put in as his grave marker. Unfortunately that is on Thursday and we leave on Wednesday.

Walking by my suegro’s room in the morning on my way to the bathroom I no longer see him sitting in the door. He doesn’t laugh quietly to himself as I greet him with my broken Spanish. Instead I glimpse the black cloth covered in flowers and see the glowing of candles. Things will never seem the same here and my heart goes out to my husband and his family for their tremendous loss.

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Filed under Family, Mexican culture, Mexico, 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

A Mexican’s story

Here is the speech my favorite Mexican gave at the Elk River community culture night. The purpose of the evening was to introduce community members to the different cultures that make up the community. About a dozen people gave speeches, mostly ESL students in the Elk River program and then I gave a speech as well which I will post after this. There were about 100 people there which I thought was a good turn-out. We were even featured in the Elk River Star News article which was neat.

“I am from a small town in the center of Mexico in the state of Morelos.  I came to the United States in February 1995 when I was 19.  My town is about 3000 people. My mom and dad had 12 children but 2 died when they were kids. When I lived there, most houses had one room where the whole family sleeps. We also use the same room as a living room, sitting on the beds like a couch. There was no phone but we did have a TV. We had no bathroom or shower or running water. We would take a shower with buckets.

Our kitchen had adobe walls and a metal roof and a dirt floor. The walls had openings but no glass in the windows. We did not have a refrigerator and no stove. My mom or sisters would cook using wood or charcoal and a big griddle. Every day we bought the groceries for the meals that day. We ate tortillas with every meal. One of the most exciting things was when my parents took the bus to a bigger city 30 minutes away on the weekend to go shopping and they would bring us fruit or some surprise. We knew they would be home around 4 or 5 and all of us would wait together and be so excited when we saw them because we knew they had something special for us. 

When I was young I never thought I would go to the US. I wanted to go to school and get a job working in my country. My father was attacked when he was in his early 20s and has been disabled since then and couldn’t work. When I was 15, my mother died and that changed my life. I needed to work hard and support my dad and sisters and little brother. I could not find a job that made enough money so I decided to go to the US to live with my sister and work in New York City.

When I came to the US we landed in New York City and I took a taxi to the apartment where my sister lived. It was nice to see her but it was so cold there to me and I had never seen snow. I did not speak any English. The next day when I woke up one of my cousins took me to buy some groceries. The stores were so different and there were so many people. One day I went to do laundry and walked by a pizzeria but I never knew what it was. I finally went in to see what they were selling and I saw the display with round things I had never seen. I bought a piece with only cheese and it just came out of the oven. It was so delicious so I got another slice. Then I got another one. And another one. I ate a whole 24 inch pizza by myself.

At every job I would try to learn some English and a couple years later I moved to Minnesota and started taking classes. Now I am taking classes here in Elk River to get my US high school diploma. I have been in the US for 14 years but it is impossible to forget I was not born here. Life in Mexico is still hard for my family but it is better now than before. They have a bathroom with running water and a kitchen that still has no windows but it has a stove and refrigerator. I am happy here in the US but I always miss my homeland and I know I always will.”

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Filed under Mexican culture, Minnesotan/American culture, Tetelilla, Morelos