Category Archives: Minnesota vs. Mexico

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

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

May 1st – Mexico vs. Minnesota

The first of May is a holiday for both Mex and I. Here in Minnesota, we celebrate May Day, or at least we used to. My mother’s parents met when my grandpa and a couple of his siblings (he had 17 of them)delivered May baskets to my grandma and her family, their new neighbors. May baskets were little baskets usually filled with flowers or treats of some kind. They were hung on a front door, and the person making the delivery would ring the bell and run. The person receiving the basket had to catch them and once they were caught, they had to deliver a kiss. I never asked my grandma if she actually caught my grandpa that day but she certainly caught his eye. Apparently this basket tradition is still around because my sister had two baskets delivered to her house on May Day by family friends. Nobody was caught and kissed though!

In Mexico, May 1st is International Worker’s Day or “Labor Day” where everyone has the day off and it is a common day for protests. This is actually a world-wide event celebrated in places like India, Sweden and Australia as well. Since 2006, the Immigrant community across the US, mainly Latino immigrants, have chosen May 1st as a day to lead rally’s for immigration reform. Mex and I were considering going to Saturday’s rally in Minneapolis but unfortunately, when I woke up my left foot looked like a swollen sausage and I could barely get a shoe on my foot. I did not know if it would be wise to squeeze into a shoe and then waddle for a mile or two at eight-and-a-half months pregnant. Thankfully the rally in Minnesota was peaceful and about 2000 people turned out to show support for immigrant rights. The rally was lead by a huge Mexican flag. For a while in 2007, I was attending meetings for an Immigrant rights group. I did raise the point at one meeting that if you were fighting to become a US citizen you should show pride in the US by carrying our countries flag and not your home country. It was not a well received point but it seemed to make sense to me.

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Filed under Holidays and Celebrations, Minnesota vs. Mexico

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

Doctoring south of the border

 Mex and I went to the dentist yesterday and had our teeth cleaned. For both of us it was less than $30. Pretty awesome considering neither of us have dental insurance and we usually pay $120 each. She really didn’t do a great job on my teeth, basically just scraping all the plaque off but not polishing them or anything but I figure as long as I go once a year in the US for a heavy duty clean I can manage to skimp a little and come down here. She did spend more time on Mex because he hadn’t been to the dentist in over a year (ugh!).

Yesterday my sore throat that I had before coming here came back in full force so today Mex and I went to the doctor in town. He was quite young, probably in his 30’s which surprised me but was very nice. Basically asked a bunch of questions (which Mex answered of course) and then looked quickly at my throat and gave me amoxicillin and two other pills. And what did the consultation AND medicine cost? About $25, barely what my copays in the US would be. Not too shabby. Although I think there must be something stronger in the medicine here because my stomach doesn’t feel so hot after taking the pills. Oh well!

 Mex and his nephew Neto just loaded the piñata with candy and are trying to figure out where to hang it. I think we are going to the plaza around midnight to see all the fireworks. Hopefully some of my pictures will turn out because I don’t really have the knack for taking night shots yet. All right, I better get back to the family. Happy new year everyone!

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Filed under Mexican culture, Mexico, Minnesota vs. Mexico, Tetelilla, Morelos

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

8-8-08, New beginnings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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