Category Archives: Minnesota

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

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

Back to school

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

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

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

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

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

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Going North to find South

What in the world does that mean you may be thinking…. I’m not even sure myself. Currently, I am amid towering red pines and lairs of woodticks near Cloquet, Minnesota. When I saw the ad for a Travel Writing class taught by Catherine Watson, former travel editor of the Star Tribune, I couldn’t resist. True, my vacation days for 2008 number almost as many as my work days. However, that just seemed to increase my urge even more. Catherine is a writer I have admired for many years, partly due to the fact she was a lead female in a typically male profession, and partly due to the lyrical quality of her writing and the place it puts me in when I read it.

This very blog is what stirred the deep desire to spend a week away from home writing. I know a number of people have read this online journal since my return, probably as many as read it while I was away. I look back now at my writing and am sad by the flatness and lack of detail. I am sure I will now spend the next week or so obsessively going back and adding for my March and April entries, hotel and place names, anecdotes I had been to rushed to mention and spell-checking for goodness sake, a feature I really wish google would fix on this website.

Through a week of constructive feedback and an amazing support group of writers, I have learned how to better capture the emotions of our journey. Maybe I was too fearful before to put them on the page because I felt like putting them in black and white would make them harder to get through. Now I know I have a larger story to tell. Not just of a couple driving through Mexico, but our trip through the immigration process. The decisions we had to make before and after we were married, the risks that were involved, the actual laws that stood in our way. I look forward to expanding on these topics and hope the momentum I feel from this week of class will carry me through the future weeks and help me to flesh out the feelings and bring our reality to others. I’m not sure if this will happen on the blog or not. Maybe snippets here and there. Only time will tell.

PS. Mex was offered a job this week (3 actually). After 10 weeks of looking, his old job at a Deli in downtown Mpls actually created a position for him, offering him a 9% raise. He took the job for now because it will provide him with enough time to continue his pursuit of a US high school diploma. Something he hopes to have by next June. It has been strange to be away from each other for four nights after the daily contact we’ve had since the month of February. I guess I should have left home earlier to write! Time apart can be a little bit of a blessing I guess.

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Finally an interview!

Yay! Mex finally got a call back. We were starting to fear that we have been too picky in looking for his new job. He wanted something reasonably close to our house, with benefits and better pay than his last job. Of course we were hoping for regular hours during the week, instead of the typical nights and weekends of the restaurant world. Therefore, he’s only found about four jobs that fit that description.

Yesterday he went to the Presbyterian Senior home in North Oaks. It was a little further away from us than I thought when he applied but it was the most gorgeous and gigantic building I’ve ever seen for senior housing. There must be room for 500 people and they are still expanding. It is not a nursing home or assisted living. It seems like just senior reduced income housing. The people living there pay only $260 a month and there are parks, full service dining, indoor pool, pool tables and all kinds of stuff. Unfortunately, when Mex showed up for his interview the chef was out due to a family emergency but he got a tour of the kitchen and filled out some more applications. He’ll have to go in a second time and meet the chef.

He also dropped off applications at the Bon Appetit food service at Target and Medtronic locations so he’ll have to call and follow up with the chefs later this week.

That’s all for now! Hopefully the next update will include a new job report!

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Putting it on paper

As most of you can probably tell, I love to write. Most of you can also tell that I LOVE to travel. Every summer the U of M offers week long courses in writing or art, called Split Rock Arts Program, where people can go and improve there skills. I happened to be looking through the brochure when we were sorting our mail some time in early May and noticed that this summer there is a class on Travel Writing and it is being taught by Catherine Watson who was the travel editor of the Star Tribune for 25 years. Unfortunately, the classes are quite expensive and our “fun” funds are severely depleted after two months of vacation. They do offer a few scholarships each summer so I decided to apply. I had to send in a writing sample since scholarships are based on financial need and on “merit”. I just found out today that I got a full scholarship for the price of the class AND room and board (it’s at the Cloquet Forestry Center). Now it is quite possible that there was no merit involved and I was the only applicant for the scholarship but I think I will cling to the hope that I have some potential and could someday even get paid to write! A dream of mine since high school! I am incredibly excited about this opportunity and hope to expand some of my blog entries into more interesting essays. It is such a great opportunity to spend a week with an instructor that has traveled the world and, even more importantly, gotten paid to do it! Yay!

No news on the job front for Mex yet… he’s going to speak to the manager at his old job tomorrow and see if he can get something temporary while he keeps looking since he is going crazy being at home. We’re keeping up the search and dropping off résumés though because he would like something new.

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Filed under Minnesota