Tag Archives: Mexican culture

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

Election experience

Wow…. So much has happened that I should have put on here but I have had a hard time logging on. I don’t know why. As March and April went by we both reminisced about being in Mexico and talked about how lucky we were to have the opportunity to spend two months travelling and how sad it was that we were both so nervous most of the time.

We spent July 4th weekend in Mexico. It was a short trip and very disappointing. We didn’t really get to visit with his family at all because the local elections were held on July 5th and his sister Sofia was running for on office. Politicians very well-paid down in Mexico which is why it is a very sought after job and elections are a huge deal. There were over a dozen people running for the same position. Apparently a lot of the campaigning takes place right beforehand. Well, not the campaigning so much as the sabotage of opponents. Mex’s nephews and nieces were all running over the town like a bunch of spies taking photos of “secret” meetings with other candidates and trying to make sure no one was planning a negative attack on Sofia. I don’t know. I didn’t understand because it is so different from here. Here politicians don’t sneak around attacking their opponents, they pay millions of dollars to prance about commercials on TV proclaiming bad things. All I know is we flew down there and spent four of the five days with each other.

 Mex did get to spend some time alone with his dad and that was good. His father’s health is failing and he can no longer walk. That is very sad to see and even I can see that his father is getting very depressed. I am afraid he will just refuse to eat one of these days. From what I saw and the description of what happened to his dad I am convinced that he must have recently had a stroke.

It breaks my heart to see the conditions in Mexico and to think that if he was here, the care would be different and he may have a better chance of recovery. Mex’s sisters care for their dad very, very well but there are some major cultural differences that concern me. For example, Mex offered to carry his dad to the shower (it is about 300 feet from his room) because he hadn’t been able to shower in 10 days and it is so hot down there during the day. His dad told him the doctor said he couldn’t shower because of his medicine.

Now maybe I’m wrong but I have heard of no medicine to treat high blood pressure or diabetes (his dad’s conditions) that say you can’t shower. Mex’s sisters won’t argue with him though because he’s the dad. They don’t even sponge bathe him because he doesn’t want to. It is wonderful in Mexico that they have so much respect for their parents and the parents authority (I’m sure I’ll appreciate trying to teach my kids that some day) but there is a point where I would force my own parents to listen to me if I knew it was for their benefit. Even if it meant hiring a nurse to come wash them if I thought they’d hate me for doing it myself. I don’t know.

It just makes me sad to see it and so sad for Mex. He’s already lost his mother and I could tell his heart was breaking every time he looked at his dad, realizing that it was very possibly the last time he would see him. I can’t imagine being in his shoes. He is constantly forced to choose between his family in Mexico and his family here. It makes me feel guilty to admit that I am glad every time that he chooses me and comes home to Minnesota again. I would have a hard time doing that if it was my mom or dad suffering. At least now he has the gift of being able to visit whenever he can get vacation and doesn’t have to go a dozen years without seeing them. I don’t know how soon we will go back but I’m glad we saw his father another time.

As we pulled away in the taxi Mex started crying and said “I feel like this is the last time I will see my dad.” I hope with all my heart that he is wrong.

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Filed under Family, Tetelilla, Morelos

Lots of visiting

Here is a picture of our pile of treats from the posadas on Christmas Eve. Totally crazy and not nearly enough chocolate for me but lots of these things called chicharones that are sort of like a cheeto without the cheese and with either a salt and lime flavor or chili flavor.

Here is Mex with his younger sister (30) Ely on Saturday after we went to a Quinceañera (15th birthday party) for a distant relative of Mex’s called Astrid Linely who was actually born in the US and lives in New Jersey most of the time. It was a giant party with at least 500 people in this family’s back yard. His sister thought a party like that probably cost about $10,000 which just amazes me. That’s more than our wedding cost! It was totally fun to get dressed up with his sisters and nieces Gaby and Deysi and go to the party though. There was barbacoa, beans and rice to eat and I did eat the meat (beef) even though I was sick last time in Mexico both times I ate beef. Luckily, I didn’t get sick this time. They had great green salsa. We didn’t stay for the giant cake but we did stay to see the first dance where the Quinceañera dances with her chanbelanes (her closest guy friends- you can see one in the white jacket here) which was to Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” so at least I understood the words. We took a movie but those don’t show up on the blog. Then there is a coronation where she gets a crown put on her and then they change her shoes which symbolizes her changing from a girl to a woman. It is hard to see the girls dress in this photo but it was very pretty. I believe the Quinceañera is a nice tradition for a girl because it gives her an opportunity to be princess for a day besides her wedding.
Other than that we haven’t been doing much except sitting around and visiting. Mex and I are getting a little restless with not much “action” as Mex likes to say. Every day consists of sweeping and mopping and cleaning and more cleaning. Washing dishes and clothes by hand certainly takes more time than loading a washer at home. My feet are horribly dirty and dry and do not come clean no matter how much soap I put on them. I think they only look so much dirtier than everyone else’s because they are so pale compared to everyone else’s. His family is going to come for New Year’s but it isn’t as big a production as Mex remembers. His sister Abelina (Andrea) did get to talk on my computer with her kids and grandkids and see them which was nice for all of them. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that again. I showed his sister Ely how to use Skype so hopefully we can talk to them that way from now on instead of paying for phone cards.
Well, that’s all for now. I’m getting more sore throat back (I had one for 10 days before we left) which is unfortunate since spicy food doesn’t agree with it and I don’t have any of my pain medicine with me. Ay qué lástima as my hubby would tell me (too bad!).

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Filed under Holidays and Celebrations, Mexican culture, Mexico, 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 day in Tetelilla

The day starts about 4:30 am when I absolutely haveto get up and walk to the bathroom because I can’t

Bathroom - shower on the right, toilet and sink on the left

hold it another minute. Mex usually walks with me since it is still dark and the dog has a habit of walking in under the curtain and doesn’t understand my scolding in English. We enjoy the brightness of the stars as we walk the 25 yards back to the house where we sleep. By this time the birds are chirping and roosters crowing all around town. (Luckily, Mex’s family doesn’t have any so they aren’t walking right under our bedroom window!)

A little before 6, there is a loud clank as his dad swings the heavy metal door open and scrapes the plastic chair scrape across the cement floor into the door frame to watch the morning come (one morning we saw him out there at 3:30). A few minutes later there are a couple more clanks as his sisters and niece start to come out of their room. The neighbor’s donkey hee-haws just as you imagine an ornery donkey would. At 6:15, as if by some internal alarm clock, the horse whineys a couple times. My husband reluctantly rolls around for a few minutes, gives me a hug and then gets up. Ernesto is away at school during the week so Mex takes the horse down the road to pasture for the day. I think Gabi probably does this when we are not here. I’m still a little unsure why they have a horse since they don’t ever ride it… I wait for his sister Eli to get out of the shower. She works Monday through Friday. She used to work as an agricultural engineer but now she works in an office in Cuautla which lends money to very poor people.

The dogs have usually let out a few morning yelps by now and the man with the megaphone has started his auctioneer-style ranting all before 7. Since there isn’t a lot of local radio or TV or even billboards, people pay guys with trucks and big speakers to drive around town, starting very early in the morning, chanting advertisements. I can’t make out a single word but the voices have the same sing-song rhythm of the very quickest auctioneer.

Gabi runs to one of the small stores down the street to get ingredients for breakfast while Eli gets ready for work and Filo starts to cook. I get in the shower while my husband helps clean his father’s toe since he had the toenail removed last week. Mex’s father right arm and leg don’t work very well, because in his 20’s he had a mini-stroke and has been partially crippled ever since. He can walk but his right foot drags a little bit and he can’t use his right hand. His daughters bring him his breakfast to his chair and if he needs something else he yells “Chiquitin” (a form of chiquita which means “little one”) to get Gabi’s attention and she comes quickly to help him. 

A man comes by in a truck selling alfalfa and Filo buys some to feed the two pigs. They are an investment of sorts. They buy pigs, feed them, and when they are big enough kill them sell off the meat to people around town. We water the plants with what is left in the barrels of water set around the yard. No plant really gets enough water but we try to make sure they all get a little.

Sometime around 8:30 we all end up in the kitchen (except his dad). Breakfast usually starts out with coffee (the Nescafe mix with water variety), sort-of-sweet breads, some eggs mixed with either green beans or nopales (cactus paddles), tortillas, toasted bread, watermelon, cantaloupe or papaya. I’m pretty sure the sweet breads and fruit are an addition just for us. We have had sopes a few times. I love them. They are

mmmm... Sopes

similar to flat tortillas with the edges curled up and you put them on a griddle and fill them with green or red salsa, cheese and sprinkle some onion and cream on the top. Simple and delicious! The kitchen starts out with a slightly smoky smell from cooking the tortillas but it clears by the time we start eating. Some mornings you can hear clicks and scrapes as small iguanas make their way across the tin roof of the kitchen. We hear the door clank as his dad leaves for his day out. He takes a taxi to the next town 5 miles away and sits in the plaza with his friends. Usually Mex’s sister Sofia comes to breakfast and sometimes his niece Karla and her two-month-old baby.

Between 9 and 10 the cattle go by. The clopping of hooves gets closer and closer until they are right outside the house and the horns bob up and down over the stone fence behind the kitchen. Just like the horse, they are brought down the road to pasture for the day because no one has any green grass in their yards. The fields must not be too abundant with food because the cow’s skin hangs loosely from sharp hip bones. The donkey always hee-haws crankily during our meal but I have finally stopped giggling when it happens.
His sisters tell stories about people in town, family members, and all the stuff people talk about at the table. Sometimes Gabi sneaks out to do homework. We usually don’t leave the kitchen until 10:30 or so when we finally decide it is time to do the cleaning before it gets really hot out. The cool breeze has died by this time and it is impossible to find any shade in the yard.

Gabi scoops up the dishes and goes back to wash them in the dishwashing/laundry station that is set up by the bathroom. My husband and I keep trying to scoop up the dishes to wash them but every time we do, his sisters look so offended and mad we put them back down. Next time when we visit we will insist. I think this time they want to completely take care of Mex since he has been gone for so long. Filo cleans inside the kitchen while Gabi starts sweeping the cement outside the house. She then spreads water on the dirt and sweeps that. I am still very confused by this but his family is impeccably neat and clean so for that reason it makes sense. We sweep and mop the inside or our house while they clean theirs. Then Gabi cleans the bathroom and shower.

By noon the heat has hit full force. Sweat is dribbling down my face, back and arms. Thankfully we are usually done with chores by now. Gabi showers to get ready for school which starts at 1 in Jonacatepec, the town 5 miles away. She is the equivalent of a senior in high school in the US. Mex and I pull the blue tarp off the car and try to start it… Not a sure thing anymore since our car trouble began. Lately we have been stopping off at the internet café afterwards since I wanted to get caught up on my postings before we leave Tetelilla.

From 1:30 – 2:30 it is time to fill the water tanks. The town is divided into sections and each one only has water for 1 hour every day. Each home is allowed only one pump to bring the water in. If your plants look too green the neighbors assume you have two pumps and they will “tell on you” to the local water watchers. The pump fills the tank on top of the bathroom first so they have water to shower. Then they move the hose around the yard filling barrels and tubs with water for plants, dishes and laundry. This is the hottest part of the day. If water wasn’t so precious Mex and I would squirt ourselves all over with water like kids running through a sprinkler. It is very hard to feel like doing anything in the sun because it has such a strong intensity. All different kinds of music starts blaring from the neighbor’s houses.
During the chaos of filling the water tanks someone always manages to prepare “lunch.” This afternoon meal at around 3 is the big meal of the day. Sometimes Sofia who lives three houses down makes lunch and we help her carry it over. No matter who cooks, we always eat in the kitchen at Mex’s dad’s house. Sofia, Arlin (her 7-year-old), Karla and her baby are always there along with Mex, Filo and I. His dad is still in Jonacatepec, Gabi and Ernesto are at school and Eli is at work. This meal could be anything… Chiles rellenos, green enchiladas, spaghetti (either with cream sauce or pureed tomatos), fish soup, rice, fruit or jamaica flower water, chicken and mashed potatoes… and always lots of tortillas. The time after lunch is for descansando or resting. It is hot and sticky and there is not much else to do. We sit in the kitchen and chat or rest on the beds. There is no shade making it uncomfortable to sit outside. This early evening time is speckled with the occasional clip-clop of horse hooves, turkeys gobbling, roosters crowing, donkeys hee-hawing and dogs barking. And how could I forget, the “auctioneer” ads. Sometimes we’ll see iguanas skittering across the rocks or climbing quickly up the cement brick walls to escape the heat by sitting under the tin eaves. Although, I can’t really imagine it’s cooler up there so maybe they are trying to go towards the heat.

Finally someone collects the dishes and around 5, Mex’s dad comes home and sits in the chair in front of his room, which by this time has a little shade. Filo brings him a big glass of the days fruit water (jamaica-a dried flower-, pineapple, or orange are the most common) and his dinner. A truck goes by with someone yelling about fruits for sale so we go out of the gate and look at the mangoes and melons. The vendor cuts Filo a slice of mango to sample and once she gives the ok we buy two kilos (4.4 pounds) and a coconut for about $2. Mex and I each peel back the skin of a mango as easily as on a banana and smell the sweetness before we bite. Filo takes a shower and gets ready to go to a neighborhood meeting. At 6, Mex goes back down the road for the horse. The sun is low in the sky by now and it is slightly cooler although still hot enough to keep constant sweat droplets on my brow. When he returns his sister Filo leaves for her meeting and Mex sits outside next to his dad. I sit and read a magazine or name our overload of pictures on the computer so he can have some time alone.

Gabi comes home from school around 8 and immediately starts getting things in the kitchen ready for dinner, setting out leftovers covered in towels. There is a little TV time sprinkled in the evening because we wait for Eli to come home from work before eating. That can be anytime from 8:45 to 10pm. We lay lazily on the beds listening to the TV and chatting. I have gotten more comfortable and this is the time where I usually attempt to communicate and piece together sentences and stories about myself and friends and family. Usually by 9 his dad asks for his glass of milk as he continues to sit in his chair. Only once-in-a-while will he come into the room and lay on the bed to talk or listen.

When Eli arrives home someone calls Sofia and tells her to come over. Then, even though it is still warm outside we have coffee, tea or hot chocolate as we sit around the table once again. This late evening meal starts with either toast or the same not-so-sweet rolls. Then we have leftovers from lunch either exactly as they were or sometimes made into something else like mashed potato taquitos or cheese tacos. This is the best time of day because everyone is together and the conversation flies. Eli tells about her day at work and Filo starts telling about any news from her meeting. Everyone gets so animated when they tell stories and the smiles and laughs fill the kitchen pouring out the windowless windows. During this time there is inevitably a dog fight out on the streets somewhere nearby. Finally, sometime between 10 and 10:30 I leave to start my nightly ritual and Mex stays just a few more minutes to wrap up the evening. We adjust the fan so it blows as much air on us as possible, even though the air is pretty hot and uncomfortable until about 2 or 3 in the morning. We settle down in bed making sure to stay as far apart as possible because skin contact causes even more sweating. A honeymoon this is not =) We fall asleep to the sounds of dogs yelping all over town and a few good night hee-haws. That is our average day in Tetelilla, Morelos, Mexico!

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