Category Archives: Minnesotan/American culture

Reality TV?

Well, I’ll admit that I am addicted (somewhat unhealthily) to crime shows like “Forensic Files,” “NCIS,” “CSI” and the like. One that I don’t watch too frequently because it can be extremely disturbing is “Criminal Intent.” However, the trailer for the most recent episode intrigued me so I tuned in. The storyline was about a serial killer near the Texas/Mexico border who was riding around on a 4-wheeler chasing illegal aliens through the desert, killing and beheading them. Not only that but there was a scene that showed a coyote (the term used for people who are paid to smuggle the aliens across) running a safe house where the aliens stop before moving on to their final destination. The coyote raped one of the women, and she was begging the FBI agent not to let her son see her that way. It was all very unsettling and sad because I know these shows usually have a thread of truth running through them.

It is not hard to believe that the people who are so vulnerable in crossing get taken advantage of and abused. I know people who have brought their young children across and now as I’m getting closer to having my own child I am torn when I think what I would do. Risk the life of my child for the promise of a better life? Leave him behind with family and go myself so I can send money home to give him a better life, but a life without me in it?

I have admiration for the people who make the journey across fences, rivers, desert and mountains to try and give their families a better life. I have seen some of the areas with extreme poverty in Mexico and it isn’t hard to imagine people feeling hopeless and like they have no other options. I am also thankful for the people I know who have made the journey, because without them my life would be completely different.

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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

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

Is there any truth in an infomercial?

I am a firm believer in NOT believing anything I see on an infomercial. Whether it is a super chopping knife or an ab roller or turbo ladder or magical age reversing make-up. I would never buy anything from QVC or by dialing an 800 number I saw on TV. It’s the same reason when someone calls me at the office claiming to be from the Fireman or Police something or other looking for donations I think it’s a scam (which news reports have found it highly likely to be one).

While those commercials are targeted at my wants and needs and are easier to resist by convincing myself they won’t work or I don’t need them, some of those 90-second to 30 minute segments are not so easy to ignore. Instead, I usually turn the channel out of skepticism or pure guilt. I’m thinking of the ones where “for the price of your daily cup of coffee you can make adopt a child” in Africa or Latin America. I have such a strong resistance to being sold something on TV but I never could stop wondering if that money would really make a difference and how much of it would actually reach the child.

Since returning from Mexico this spring I have been reading every book and article I can about the history of Mexico and about the current economic status. The facts about starvation and malnutrition are eye-opening and frightening. Studies estimate that almost 50% of the children in the country are malnourished (and almost as many adults). I’ve heard statistics about malnutrition in other countries but I’ve never really understood how far those effects stretch. There are disturbing pictures of indigenous school children from Mex’s state next to children in private schools in Cuernavaca. The children from rural Morelos (my husband’s state) are visibly shorter and frailer than the middle/upper class children. You can actually see the effects of having not enough food and that disturbed me a lot.

Unlike the US, schools to not provide any food or snacks to the children. When kids show up hungry, with no breakfast they have no energy. They fall asleep in class and don’t learn. If they don’t learn, they are put on the path of only finishing the US equivalent of junior high. In fact, that is all that is required in Mexico which surprised me.

I feel like someday I would like my mission to be finding out a way to make sure every kid that goes to school gets a good breakfast. Maybe by making sure that kids get at least one full meal a day, five days a week, it will give them enough energy to stay awake in class and study. For Mexico to rise in power, technology, and economical status in the world I really believe they need to start out with more focus on education. I tried to figure out the cost to provide each kid with eggs, tortillas, milk, and fruit and guess what it comes out to? The cost of a cup of coffee. I guess I’ve become a believer after all.

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Filed under Mexican culture, Mexico, Minnesotan/American culture

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

The land of "plenty"

Or, more fittingly, the land of too much of everything. Here in the middle of the desert are dozens of mega-hotels with 2000+ rooms each, enormous buffets on every corner, neon lights and spot lights and glowing slot machines… The pure amount of consumption that happens in Las Vegas is absolutely insane. On our trip to the Grand Canyon we met a couple from New Zealand who said they just can’t believe “America.” They commented that they were not able to find any place that wasn’t stuffed with people and that Americans seem to consume so much. The said there is nothing in New Zealand like Vegas and there, for entertainment, most people do outdoor activities like kayaking and hiking. Mex and I tried to explain that Vegas was not the city to judge America by. However, we started talking about it over dinner yesterday and decided maybe the Zealanders weren’t so far off. 

Bellagio flower display

In Mexico, where water is scarce (which is in almost the entire country) the use is strictly limited on a daily basis. You have one hour to pump as much as possible into your water holding tank. In the US, we see desert and decide to build one of the most energy-sucking, water-consuming cities in the country there. Why? Maybe gambling and girls were the only thing that could get people to visit this dry, wickedly hot area. Now there are dance clubs, “gentlemen’s and ladies clubs”, and free drinks while you gamble. I must admit that Mex and I did take advantage of the last one but penny machine hopping and pretending to gamble until the drink lady came our way. Of course, by the third margarita I really did put my $5 in the machine but luckily 500 pennies last a long time…

It will be a long time before we come to Vegas again (don’t tell my husband I said that!). He does love it with all the lights and things to do and I like to come here because it makes him happy. We usually go to shows like Cirque de Soleil or comedy shows but we decided to spend our “fun” money on the Grand Canyon excursion instead this time. It was a good choice since we both had wanted to see it for years. The business trip was worth it and I wish I was attending the classes the rest of this week but unfortunately I didn’t have time in my schedule. We just are not dance or clubbing or drinking people so Vegas does have a limited appeal. It is amazing to see the large size of the casinos and the fact that construction keeps going on. And the shopping would be great if I knew (or cared) anything about fashion. Everything from Jimmy Choo shoes, Armani suits, and $4000 prada purses! You can walk around for hours just looking at everything there is to see and being amazed, overwhelmed and slightly disgusted. Oh well… We just ran in to our friend Karla at the airport here in Vegas. Small world!

A few follow up notes: There were a ton of people selling time shares to condos in Vegas. We were attacked at the entrance to every hotel and casino with the question “Are you two married?” finally, after the 4th day I said to one of them, “Yes, but not to each other.” He didn’t really have a response to that and Mex and I walked away without being bothered. Totally annoying!
One last thing… Our hotel Excalibur is home to the “Thunder from Down Under” show featuring Australia’s hottest male exports. I couldn’t quite convince my husband to go though =)

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Filed under Mexico, Minnesota vs. Mexico, Minnesotan/American culture, Travel outside MN and Mexico