Archive | September, 2016

Traditional Cures for the Partially Lost Soul

27 Sep

In an English class of mostly Mexican moms in Kentucky, for potluck I once took a beautiful dish of locally-grown heirloom tomatoes, with chunks of mozzarella cheese, and fragrant, fresh basil. Nobody even tried it. “Maybe because the tomatoes don’t look like normal tomatoes?” suggested the other teacher; indeed, the tomatoes were orange and reddish. I was discouraged because I’d been so hyped up to share my flavorful and pretty dish (aesthetics are not my strong suit in the kitchen), and nobody told me why they weren’t eating it.

Now that I live in Mexico, it’s obvious why nobody ate my exotic appetizer. The same reason almost nobody is interested in making pesto, even though you can get a huge bunch of basil for just 5 pesos. The culprit is the basil! Here, basil is like medicine, not food. (Why can’t it be both? I’m still not sure about that one.) People put a big bunch of basil in a vase as if it were flowers for their business to attract more clientele. More importantly, basil is used to curarte de espanto– it’s part of the treatment to cure you when you’ve lost part of your soul.

Sounds dramatic, huh? Erase that part from your mind for a second. Picture a kid in the US who is not gaining weight like they should. What happens? They get a bunch of tests and some pediatric protein shakes, their parents get nutrition counseling and vague threats of involvement by Child Protective Services. Something like that, right?

Down here, in many households the first line of defense would be to take the child to the curandero or curandera (the healer- usually a woman but not always) to get curado de espanto (cured of fright). One of the tias (aunts) was just telling Conan that Lucia is too whiney- and therefore she needs curing. When I first started having troubles with Lucia’s sleeping, when she was a baby, many folks suggested that we take her to get cured. I was convinced she just needed a better sleep routine, but Conan’s womenfolk (his mom and all the aunts) were very concerned that she needed curing. You might need curing if you have a loss of appetite, if your hands and feet are cold, if you have insomnia, if you are tired all the time, if you’re pale, if you have slight fevers, if you have headaches or chest pains, if you just feel run-down, out-of-sorts, not yourself. All of those symptoms could signify that you have espanto (fear/fright) and that you need to go get cured.

Conan used to go get cured from recurring migraines, which were supposedly caused by mal de ojo (the evil eye, yes, siree!). Funnily enough, he didn’t get migraines the whole 10 years that he was in the US. Shortly after we moved to Juquila, though, he started getting one right after walking past his mean neighbor. His aunt- who is not a curandera per se, but who knows tons about herbs and massage and other healing- came over and gave him a quick limpia– a cleanse, let’s call it. And his migraine was gone.

A cleanse is like a quicker, simpler version of getting cured- just something to clean the bad energy off of you. It involves rubbing an egg over you (no, you cannot eat the egg later- it makes the egg bad), brushing you with a big bunch of basil, and using rubbing alcohol or alcohol like mezcal, among other things.


See? That egg is no good afterwards. Apparently.


One of the Tías shows Khalil how it’s done.

People here have all kinds of rituals and protections woven into their daily lives, and who am I to say whether it works or not? For example, there are special charm bracelets for babies to protect them from the evil eye. Everyone in the US would surely be freaking out about them as a choking hazard, but here it’s par for the course. People also hold or touch a baby when they see one that they think is cute, because somehow touching the baby prevents you from accidentally giving the kid your bad energy.

Evil eye is not the only thing that causes these ills that require curing. The other main cause is “espanto”- a fright, let’s call it. Any moment of serious fear can cause those symptoms we talked about above, and therefore require this ritual of getting cured. It could be falling off a horse, seeing a snake, a wave knocking you down in the ocean- all kinds of stuff.* I remember that a friend of mine from Mexico was in a car accident once in Kentucky, and he called his cousin to hurry and bring him some bread to eat, so the fright of being in a car accident wouldn’t get into him (and make him lose part of his soul, I suppose- they didn’t tell me that part because they probably saw that I was already thoroughly confused. I bet it’s harder to find a decent curandero in Kentucky than here, too.) A student of mine from Mexico told me once, too, about how a fright like that is what really causes diabetes. It was one of those moments of seriously testing my abilities to show respect for a person’s culture and beliefs while also hoping to provide alternate/conflicting information that could be really important for that person’s whole family. (I’m still not sure how well I scored on that one. It’s a learning process.)

There is where the problem lies for me- and why I didn’t send Lucia to get cured when everyone told me too. I am never going to believe that one episode of shock causes someone to have diabetes. I think that many cases of “unexplained” symptoms might have a clear explanation, like anemia or poor circulation. My concern would always be about using a curandero exclusively and perhaps missing out on something important that needs a different type of cure.

Being open to this type of healing, however, without excluding other possibilities or treatment options, is absolutely fine by me. While Conan and I both revere science and reason, while we feel a bit dubious some of this evil eye business, we also respect and appreciate the power of energy, and the ways that it can be used positively or negatively. It’s not incredible to think that someone’s negative energy can make you feel bad. Conversely, if just suggestion can make someone feel better- just a placebo, for example- it’s not the slightest bit outlandish to think that a person’s benevolent touch and attention wouldn’t make us feel better, too. Both of us can accept that it might not be the egg or the basil exactly, so much as the ritual of it that focuses the person’s attention and energy, the healing touch, and a little bit of the placebo effect.

So after Conan got his big head injury a few weeks ago, he was happy to take off for Juquila, for a full-scale curing. He’d spent the week attempting to recover and rest amidst the chaos that is our household- kid problems, car problems, money problems, etc.- the usual workweek. He was still tired and dizzy with bouts of confusion. He had bags under his eyes from not enough sleep. Added to that was the fact that he’d lost weight lately. (His weight loss was absolutely due to a positive lifestyle change, but all of his aunts were walking around acting like I was forcibly starving him- although that’s another story.) “You look terrible;” his womenfolk told him. “Go and get yourself cured!” Even his mechanic buddy (the very honest but not very knowledgeable one) had told him that he really needed a cleansing, at least, to improve things with our car, too. We decided that a whole weekend without responsibility and caretaking might be enough cure in itself. So off he went to see the curandera in Juquila.

Getting curado de espanto is a much more elaborate ritual than the simple egg/basil/alcohol business that I’ve seen. A cleanse can be done by anybody who knows the ritual, but getting cured has to be done by an official healer. In Conan’s case, it involved crosses made of palm, many candles, and “some awful green drink,” among the other routine cleansing tools. The curandera analyzed the candle wax to determine what caused his fright, and whether or not he’d been cured after the first session.

The curandero also calls your spirit to return to you- which is part of the difference in this curing versus just getting rid of the bad energy of the evil eye. This ritual is to cleanse you and also bring this lost part of your soul back to you. This soul-seeking part totally makes me think of Peter Pan and his lost shadow. I picture Conan there trying to sew it back on himself and a little old lady laughing and shaking her head. The idea of a lost shadow- this lost part of the soul- sparked my thinking about the shadow parts of ourselves. Now I can see more clearly the beautiful and wise symbolism in this kind of ritual.


Peter Pan trying to capture his shadow, all by his lonesome. Somebody go find that boy a curandera!

It took two curing sessions for the lost part of Conan’s soul to return. He also got a massage and a bath of rose petals. (I admit I was a bit jealous about that part.) The best part, though, according to Conan, was getting all that special attention- from the curandera, from his aunt, with whom he had good, long talks. I mean, imagine! A whole two days devoted to receiving TLC and being taken care of. Granted, you have to do what they tell you and stay under the covers in bed for like a whole day (not sure if I’m capable of that), but I can see how it could be worth it.

Conan conjectures that getting cured probably works so often in part because of the care and attention involved. Imagine being in the turmoil of adolescence and having some “fright” symptoms (aka normal teenage madness). Imagine your mama saying, “Come on- I’m worried about you; let’s go cure you. Stay home from school today, maybe tomorrow, too.” She cooks your favorite foods, she doesn’t ask you to do anything. Your whole family is extra nice to you, or at the minimum doesn’t bother you. You rest and relax for a couple of days, getting massages and special baths. You get the full dose of a placebo effect, too. That surely would cure me from an ailment or two.

I don’t think it’s going to cure diabetes, no. But what if it helped a person in a way that addressed the shadow parts of their spirit that were causing them to overeat and thus contributing to diabetes? I can see how it could be beneficial, even while I can doubt that it would be beneficial enough to be a complete treatment for diabetes. And I have no doubt that it can work for many types of problems. I don’t by any stretch think that all these curanderos are quacks, either. Some of them are herbalists, and I suspect that some probably have lots of other wisdom and healing knowledge to boot.

So did the curandera cure Conan? Her healing did not help our car continue to run. But Conan is certainly much better than he was, even if he’s still too skinny for his aunties’ liking. Can we chalk it up to the curandera’s powers? Who am I to say- it certainly didn’t hurt him, anyway.

Maybe I will get Lucia cured after all. If there’s a possibility my four year old will sleep better and whine less, what have I got to lose?

*I got examples of causes and some other good info from this really insightful page, which is for medical doctors and discusses respecting curanderos. It’s in Spanish.



A Deluge of Generosity

20 Sep

Last Monday, my hands were shaking as I prepared to publish my weekly blog post. They trembled like the first few times I tried out my college Spanish on actual Spanish speakers. My heartbeat fluttered erratically like it does when I’ve gotten on a bus in a foreign country- sure I’m not doing it quite right and doubting I’ll end up where I was planning to go, but determined to go anyway.

I was scared because I knew this was important, and I wanted to get it right. I sensed that later I would recognize it as one of those moments that would separate major eras in my life. The same way there’s a before and after I got pregnant with Lucia, for example. There will be a “before” and “after” we announced our intentions to move back to the states. I knew this was monumental.

I was also nervous as hell because of fear and anxiety. I worried that our family and friends in Puerto would feel like we don’t care about them. I worried that people would say shame on me for wanting to leave after I’d spent four years building a life here. They’d say I was giving up on Oaxaca, or that I haven’t tried hard enough, that doing my best isn’t good enough. I was also feeling really guilty about asking people for financial help, because I know there are so many great causes and people who need funds as much as or more than we do. Because publicly stating that you need help, in our culture, is often mixed with all kinds of ugly, deep-rooted ideas about human worth and value- things I don’t believe, but they’re there, threatening me anyway.

With a lot of encouragement from some key folks, though, I hit “publish” on my blog. I posted to Facebook. Holly posted the GoFundMe campaign to Facebook. And there was no going back, no matter what people might think about my worth.

The fundraising campaign netted over $400 in the first hour after publishing- enough to retain our lawyer. Within 24 hours, the fund- you guys- raised enough for the whole first step in our immigration process- lawyer fee and immigration fee. Woo hoo! We’re already starting the process! We have a contract in hand and hope to have our first file sent in to US Immigration by early October. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone for that, first of all.

More importantly, though, I was astounded by the seemingly limitless support. In addition to all the folks who were able to donate, people sent so much love and encouragement our way. People talked about being happy and excited to have us come back. People said our family deserves support. (Oh how marvelous it is to be called worthy, right? We are all worthy. An important note.) Folks assured us that we will make this happen! Some people shared details of their own migration process, and expressed their solidarity. People reminded us of something good we’d done for someone else at some point, which was a really helpful reminder that receiving help is part of the same beautiful cycle that is giving help. Folks called us out as part of their family- “Conan, my brother!” or “One of my favorite people, Julia”. One of my two favorite sociology profs from college publicly called me “an awesome sociologist.”

People shared my blog post like nobody’s business- and complimented my writing. My mouth was hanging open as I looked at stats from hundreds of readers, including folks in like 10 different countries, reading my blog. People I don’t even know shared my blog, and called me names like “amazing writer.” I didn’t even really believe that people who don’t know me actually read my blog, before this. I got all teary eyed thinking how proud my Nonna, the great storyteller, would be, when a friend publicly invited people to read some of my “incredible storytelling.”

I was Floored. Shocked. Almost speechless. Overwhelmed with gratitude. My cup was all runneth-over-style with love and joy. I almost woke up the kids that first night, running/dancing around the house, trying to “whisper-scream” to Conan, something that sounded like : “So!Many!People!F*#/ing!Love!Us!We!Are!So!F*/#ing!Lucky!”


Imagine: Me, shouting for joy “really quietly” just like this little girl.

I am not very good at shouting in a soft and quiet voice, for the record. Not shouting was out of the question, however, because I was jubilant, EXPLODING with cheer. Gratitude and glee were radiating out of my pores.


This was me, all last week.

It turned the tides for me in terms of my feelings about this process, too. If you read Ending our Exile you can probably feel the angst and anxiety broadcasting from my very words. I was already giving myself panic attacks before we’d even begun. I debated with myself about cancelling everything and living in Mexico forever, because it just felt like too much struggle for something that is no guarantee.

After we shared our dreams with all you lovely people, though, after we asked for help, you guys produced such a storm of support that  y’all lifted some of the burden from  our shoulders. Now my attitude and energy are more like: “Of course we can do this! Look at everyone who has our back! This has to happen. That’s all there is to it. Take that, bureaucracy! We got a whole lotta love!”

My community-induced endorphins were so intense that when I woke up to cat poop on the kids’ toys the next morning, I took it in stride. I washed Khalil’s diapers with a smile on my face all week. Lucia threw her typical irrational dictator tantrum about seating arrangements in the kitchen and I didn’t even groan. I was on a love high like I haven’t been on since Conan and I first got together.

I admit, I faltered a bit in my joy-fest when the baby had his first serious asthma attack towards the end of the week. I might have cursed our car as more punishment than transportation when it broke down AGAIN yesterday. And okay, I reverted back to the crying-in-my-office thing when faced with more evidence of state-sanctioned genocide happening in my country- wondering how many more Black lives are going to be lost before it’s enough evidence to change the system, feeling an enormous dread as I worry about my loved ones who are not only living with discrimination (as if that were a small thing) but also knowing that they and their beautiful, precious children are likely to be killed just for existing. In my country. The one I’m dying to go back to.

And yet I am dying to go back. For those very friends I’m worrying about, and loving and missing from afar. For all of you folks who are worrying about me and Conan, and sending so much love from afar. Because I have support. Because I give support. Generosity is a cycle. We have to continue to support and love on each other- not even just to make positive change, but also just because that’s what makes life really worth living.

And now I’m hungry for more; I want to do more! Your all’s gifts have made me more determined than ever to be exactly where I am and trust that it’s right. Even if it seems we’re always short on time and money, I can still find more ways to give. I can give a few pesos to that guy by the market with his drum and his eery voice. I can give more understanding to my students when they can’t get it together to study. I can keep trying to make my classes a rich and welcoming learning environment for all my students. I can bake an extra loaf of corn bread every time I bake, to have some extra for sharing. (Because maybe my dad was right about food being love.) I can be nice, amable, because it doesn’t cost a thing and it makes such a big difference sometimes. I’ll keep my eyes and heart open for more and more opportunities to do right by the world. Every day I can learn more, I can work more towards being the person that I dream of being- a person overflowing with love and generosity.

So the euphoric effects of everyone’s well-wishes, encouragement and assistance haven’t disappeared just because I’m not explosively elated 24/7. I’ve incorporated your energy into my being. Life is hard and unfair, true. There is so much suffering happening all the time. So much hardship in any given day. Days like today, when the negative seems overwhelming, I am somber but more sure than ever about my place in the world. I am more sure than ever of the world’s beauty, too. That I’ll get through this. That we’ll get through this- all of this hard and wonderful and important stuff- together.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am eternally grateful.



As an extra note, I want to share with you my reminder to myself, that I’ve posted in my office to keep me from crying excessively (or at least too loudly) when I read the news:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” – from the Talmud



The Compass at our Crossroads

12 Sep

I was sitting at a kid-sized picnic table in my mama’s dining room in Louisville, Kentucky, eating something exotic like Brussels sprouts and red beans with my kids, when my mama started talking about moving to Savannah, Georgia. She’d been there before and really liked it. She and her wonderful partner, Dee, had come to the realization that neither of them could realistically work their jobs from Puerto Escondido all winter like they’d hoped, but they both really need a change. My mom and I were both doing a fantastic job of not discussing our grief about the impossibility of spending more time together.


The first annual visit of my mama and Dee, back when we lived in Juqulia

Instead, we started researching Savannah. We delved into population and weather, colleges and parks, museums and general culture. “It’s close to the beach,” she hinted knowingly, “and you know your daughter is drawn to the sea like I am.” We started looking at houses. “Maybe a duplex,” said my mama, “For someday, in the future. For when you guys can move.” I nodded, trying to feel optimistic. “Yes. Perfect! Someday. Eventually. Hopefully. Maybe.”

The next thing I knew she was going through books to give some away, which meant she was officially a woman on a mission. You guys who know her know that she doesn’t easily part with any book from her library-sized collection. I realized immediately that she is moving to Savannah, and nothing can stop her. I had a blast talking and planning it with her. We’re still having a blast with it; just yesterday she sent me a message- “Did you know that Savannah has a bigger Hispanic population than Louisville? Yes, this is what I research on a Sunday morning.”

By the time I got back from our trip to Louisville, I was so taken with the idea that I found several different jobs I wanted on Savannah’s Craigslist. I was sending emails to my mom, like, “Look! I have these skills! I could totally do this!” and, “Look at this one! I would be great at this job!” I looked harder at colleges. “Look!” I wrote my mama. “Someday I could get a Master’s in Social Work or Adult Education! Choices! I might even want to study Public Health instead! So many possibilities for the future!!!”

I checked out all the public schools. I picked out an elementary school for the kids (a Montessori school, no less). I found the artsy high school I bet they’ll want to go to. I read lists of family-friendly activities, marveling at the thought of activities– museums, events, organized art functions, festivals- so many things that are rare or nonexistent here.

I nearly brought myself to tears in my office (it’s a theme for me, I know, this crying in my office) when I realized I could volunteer again. I found an organization I want to work for- an awesome place that works with immigrants and refugees and pregnant women and children, doing all kinds of work that I am interested and invested in. And I realized suddenly, even if I don’t get a job with them, I can still do that work. I could just sign up and then they organize everything and I just have to show up for a couple hours and bam! I get to do something meaningful and worthwhile. Aren’t you crying happy tears just thinking about it?

Conan and I started talking about it, and every conversation was more and more invigorating, more energizing, and more unabashedly hopeful, like a freight train of optimism slowly picking up steam. We started discussing topics that had become off-limits: the stuff that we missed so much that it hurt to talk about it, because it came with the reality that we might not ever have it again. Like potlucks. We could attend potlucks! Hell, we could host potlucks! We talked about stuff that we know of but have never even gotten to experience, since almost all of our parenting has happened here- like story time for kids at the library!

I told him how a friend made fun of me, for talking about how if I could ever move back, I was going to shell out the money for a moving van, by golly, all the way across the border. “I don’t want to start from scratch again,” I had told her. “Julia,” she reminded me, scoffing ever so sweetly, “You forget that we have Goodwill here. You can even find decent furniture in the alley during junk week.” I repeated that to Conan, and we giggled quietly, trying not to wake the kids, remembering, thinking how absurd and yet wondrous that fact is, comparing it to here where nobody throws out anything remotely useful, ever.


This is what starting over looked like when we first moved to Juquila.

All of our conversations were pipe dreams, though. All my job searches, all my ideas and activities were just in theory. I mean, it’s not like my family can just pack up and move to Savannah. I’d had a consultation with a lawyer in Louisville and he confirmed that yes, there is a possibility that we could return to the US as a family. If we took on the task, it would take at least a year, probably closer to two (and it could always be longer). Cost-wise, it would take at least seven thousand US dollars when all is said and done (just for the process of getting Conan into the country legally, not including any moving expenses- for more info, click here). I put the figure into a currency converter to change it to pesos, and my brain exploded. In other words: impossible.

Then I had the privilege and joy to sit around on my mama’s front porch with my very bestest girlfriend in the world- all of our children sleeping soundly, just the two of us talking. I was telling her just how impossible it would be- how daunting the process itself is- even with a lawyer, and how the only way we could get that kind of money ever would be to become uber corrupt politicians and steal it from the people. Or perhaps we could put the kids to work washing car windows at the big intersection? Or maybe my mom would win the lottery? “It’s never going to happen,” I said.

But Holly, my BFF (best friend forever), that friend who’s always rescuing me in moments of need and doubt, came along and burst my little bubble of dejection. She went ahead and snatched the bubble wand right out of my hand. “Julia, we’ll ask for help,”* she said, in that gentle but obvious tone like when I remind my four year old that she has to close her eyes if she wants to go to sleep. “We,” she said, already including herself in the work. (I know. I don’t even know what I did to deserve such a good friend.)


Me and my BFF! Funny faces are better than tearful goodbyes.

I started off telling Conan, “Holly thinks we could raise the money. Maybe in a few years we could give this a shot.” I side-eyed him tentatively. “How about now?” he responded, adding some speed to our freight train of hope. “I feel like I’m stagnating here,” he said later, and I would have fallen over in shock if I weren’t in bed already.

See, Conan’s spent the past four years carefully refraining from complaining, refusing to discuss his feelings about leaving the US, denying that he was devastated like I was. He’s gotten really good at shoulder shrugs and silence instead. Suddenly, with this lemonade shake-up in our possibilities, a rift opened up in the hard patch of earth that used to be the before/USA section of his heart. “Let’s do this,” he said, finally ready to talk about all the things in the US that we want for our family, for our children, for ourselves.

Every conversation we had about it added more steam to the engine of our pipe dream-freight train, and the next thing I knew we’d clasped hands and hopped right on. To attempt such a wild journey- trying to get permission for Conan to re-enter my home country- we’d need motivation galore. We made a list of reasons a mile long.

Which is not to say that there weren’t- aren’t- reasons to stay. There are- starting with Conan’s mama, who we also love dearly. But embarking on this isn’t as simple as leaving one thing for the other. We’re adding to our possibilities, expanding our family’s options. We’ll be able to visit each of our families all together. The door to our other home will finally be open for Conan again, and by extension, to all of us.


Reason #1: Who wants to separate this awesome Papi from his children? Certainly not I.  This is Conan and Lucia in Louisville. (Just before we gave this couch away, lol)

Let me show you what some of our other reasons look like:

Because I want to see my mama’s shining face much more than a couple times a year. Because my dad passed away and I couldn’t even make it to the funeral. Because a cousin nearly died and I couldn’t go visit him in the hospital. Because I miss every single one of my niece’s birthdays. Because two years passed between soul-nurturing get-togethers of Team Julia (the aunt that I’m named for and me). Because my goddaughters barely even recognize me between visits. Because I have felt the reality of this short life a bit more acutely and I miss my family dreadfully.


I want this more often, please!


the other half of Team Julia

Because Holly promised me she could visit me at least twice a year if I lived in Savannah, versus the current situation where her chances to visit are zero. Because the possibilities for all of our friends and most of our family in the US to come visit is currently zero.

Because I can’t go visit the US at all unless my family pays for it. Because every visit gets more difficult financially, and our yearly visit without Conan gets harder for all of us. Because on our last visit Lucia said, “I wanna live in Kentucky with Papi,” and I couldn’t even answer her.

Because teachers here were on strike for months this year, and I learned that they’ve gone on strike every year for the past ten years. Because even when teachers are working, the Oaxacan school system is abysmal. Because I’m an educator and a mom and I’m totally depressed about three year olds copying words when they haven’t even learned their letters yet. I’m totally dispirited about all kinds of other woes of the curriculum and methodology in both public and private schools here. Because folks in the US think schools there are underfunded but y’all haven’t even seen schools where there aren’t basic things like desks, or there are no books, or the building is inadequate, or where some kid just out of high school is teaching because that’s all there is.**

Because we can’t get allergy testing for my asthmatic daughter here. Because if there’s a true and serious enough emergency, treatment might require a seven hour drive to the capital city. Because we’re lucky to have an amazing pediatrician for our children, but she’s not available 24/7 and I worry about what we’ll do if she moves away someday.

Because the healthcare provided by my insurance company is of such a dubious quality that I haven’t even signed my family up with them, and I avoid it like the plague for my own health, too. Because doctors here often don’t even assess you before they prescribe you something. Because even expensive, private clinics do things like send my daughter home in the middle of a critical asthma attack. Because paying out of pocket for our whole family’s healthcare is breaking our bank.

Because in the US there are libraries upon libraries, filled with so many books. Because our old home has used book stores (yipeee!). Because there is easy access to books and therefore a culture of reading there. Because I had easier access to books in Spanish in Louisville, Kentucky, than I do in Southern Mexico.

Because my work schedule here- this split shift, 8AM to 7PM with a weird break in the middle- is brutal for my parenting, for my social life, for my marriage. And there is no possibility of changing my schedule in this job. And any other teaching job that I know of is going to pay me less money, which is unacceptable since we’re barely getting by as it is.

Because seeing Conan have hopes and dreams for himself again is magical, and I want that to continue. Because parents with goals are happier people and set a good example for their children.

Because I don’t want to stop having dreams for myself. Because I labor at my current job with sincere enthusiasm and delight, but I’m already at my peak professionally; there’s no room for me to grow into some more challenging position later, because such a position doesn’t exist at my job. Because I can’t find any other job around here to get excited about. Because I feel like I have so much more to give and learn and share, so many skills that I can’t put to use or continue developing here. Because I have no chances of furthering my own education around here.***

Because during my last visit to Kentucky I got chills, a positive electrical charge shooting through my spine, being in close proximity to young, fiery activist folks just radiating with power and hope for our world. Because I want to keep feeling that excitement, that we the people can change our world for the better. Because I want my kids to grow up surrounded by copious amounts of that kind of heart and spirit.

Because there are 100,000 more people in Savannah than in Puerto, and I’m an extrovert, for crying out loud! I’m a people person, and a city girl through and through. Not a NYC or Tokyo or Mexico City kind of girl, but, say, a Louisville or New Orleans or Savannah, Georgia, kind of girl. I need people and activities! I want parks and museums and arts! I want to be stimulated and inspired by a more diverse crowd of people than what you can find in our sleepy, semi-rural beach town here. Here is just too small for my loud, extroverted self.


This year’s potluck at Dee and Fausta’s (my mama) house. So much love! So much food! The best of all possible worlds.

Because this random, idle talk of moving to Savannah, Georgia, where neither Conan nor I have ever been before, slowly morphed into a very real goal, and it’s made things finally click into place for us. The lawyer gave me facts, and confirmation of a legal possibility. Holly gave me hope, and changed my certain impossibility into a concrete possibility. But I was driving around Louisville thinking, “Why does this feel off? I love this city so intensely and passionately. Conan loves this city tenderly. My children love to visit here. Why doesn’t it feel right to imagine our whole family here again?”

I realized, though, that it felt like backpedaling. I had spent too much time frantically praying to the universe to magically transport us back in the space-time continuum, back to our days in Kentucky when everything seemed so perfect for Conan and me. For so long, I would have given just about anything to go back to Kentucky, the three of us together.


A trip to the zoo in Louisville, pre-children. Relationships are so easy without children, money stress, and immigration problems, right?

But it was partly a longing for my old life. And now I don’t want my old life. I want to keep shedding my skin and growing; I want to go forward. Conan and I are different people than we were four years ago- better and wiser and more loving than before. Our hearts and minds have grown, as has our family. I’ve lost my longing to relive my old life.


What a difference a few years makes. Going back doesn’t mean going backwards.

My mama’s at-first-glance outrageous idea to move to Savannah changed my idea of what “going back” means. It gave Conan and me a new direction. The convergence of all these factors, all this hope, this love, this encouragement, brought us to a new crossroads, to paths we thought were closed. All these helping hands pressed a shiny new compass tightly into our hands, and asked us to look again, to reimagine the impossible.

Granted, I’m still trying to stifle the judgmental voice in my head that’s shamefully scolding me that that I should just keep trying to improve things here in Puerto, that I don’t deserve to ask for help because our situation isn’t as dire as some folks’. It’s a nasty, nagging voice also trying to convince me that I’m forsaking Conan’s family and all the other wonderful people that exist here in Puerto.

But we can love and appreciate people and aspects of our life here and still know that it’s best for our family to return home. We want to go back to the country where I grew up, the country where Conan learned what it meant to be an adult, the country where we started our family. We want to go back to the open-door, heart-on-your-sleeve, porch-sitting, conversation-with-strangers culture that is the USA. We want to go back to the country where both of us felt like we found our community, our people, those folks that share our values, those folks that we love and support like family. We want to return to the never-ending mix of cultures and histories and colors, the land of every attitude and opinion that you could possibly dream up. A country where we can make things better together. It’s not a perfect country and our lives there won’t be perfect, either. There is no true perfection; we get this about life. But this is what we want, resoundingly.

It’s going to be a lengthy and wearisome journey to get there. We need your help! This gargantuan change will only be possible because of our wonderful community on whatever side of the border you’re on. We need your cheerleading spirit to encourage us. We need a few bucks sent our way if you’ve got it. We need periodic reminders about how it’s going to be worth it to wade through this intense bureaucracy. We need continued accompaniment from all the fabulous folks we love here in Puerto.You, our gente, our families and communities, are our compass. Help lead us home.  Love, Julia, Conan, Lucia, and Khalil

*Click here if you are interested in supporting our journey to return to the USA.  

**Granted, the absolute worst situations like this are mostly in rural areas, which, despite all the farm animals on our block, is not where we live. That said, we still feel extremely disturbed about the quality of education that’s available for Khalil and Lucia.

***There are a couple of Master’s programs where I teach, but not in anything I’m even remotely interested in or qualified for.

Some Irreverent Cheer, in T form

2 Sep

I needed to focus on some silliness after 7 days of melodrama and frustrations, and what’s cheerier than irreverent and inappropriate t-shirt messages? Some superb ones can be found all over town here and I’ve been jotting them down for ages. Finally it’s time to share.

With Mexico being a neighbor to the US, you see lots and lots of people with shirts in English. Some things are new clothing that has something written in English because it makes it cooler- or something. I’m not really sure what the motivation is for making baby onesies, for example, that say “Handsome” instead of “Guapo.” We’re in Mexico, guys! Speak Spanish! Stop making stupid crap in English! Is there so much obligatory diffusion of ‘Murican culture happening that you can’t even get new clothes in Mexico in the national language? Geez.

Occasionally it becomes fun, though, when they start putting totally random English on shirts. I used to have a shirt that somebody bought me from the Canary Islands that was covered in words as if you were supposed to read it, but it was something like: Freedom butterfly go spider fly love pacore fun forever (totally unrelated crap with a totally made-up word for good measure). But it’s in English! Super cool.

Here are some other good examples of these kinds of shirts (from the interwebs, not from my camera, because I suspect it’s rude and an invasion of privacy to snap photos of people in their t-shirts all the time):



I secretly hope that some aspiring English language learners sit around and make up these t-shirts. Like they just open up a dictionary and pick out words that sound nice to them. Or they open different youtube pages and the first word of each video is what goes on the shirt. However they come up with it, they obviously don’t care whether your English t-shirt is credible or not. It is the reason why I will never, ever get a tattoo in a language I don’t speak. Imagine getting something really deep written on you, only for it to be something like, “permited to going” or “vintage gonna” or so many much worse things. Okay, maybe it would be funny enough later to make it worthwhile. I won’t say never. Just probably not. 1527898-980x

Then there are the t-shirts in English that are second-hand, presumably from the US, usually with more legitimate English. Some of the ones I appreciate are messages that are a bit incongruous with the person wearing them, like the wasted-drunk guy outside the market wearing his “Franklin Elementary PTA” t-shirt. Or the grumpy old lady in the shop wearing her shirt that says “My heart is all his!” (Although, okay, maybe she felt passion in her cold little heart once upon a time.) There’s the construction worker with his Harvard Alumni t-shirt or the harried mom with her Mini Marathon for Parkinson’s Disease shirt. Sure, maybe they did those things, but it looks a little out of place in the moment.

I like the meant-to-be sarcastic ones, like Conan’s t-shirt that says, “I’m just one freaking ray of sunshine, aren’t I?” (But we bought it in the US, so maybe it doesn’t count.) “Everybody loves me” also falls into the “surely this is sarcasm” category, because who makes these slogans up? Could you be serious about that?

Usually when I ask my students about their clothes’ messages in English, they don’t know or they’re not totally sure what it says. Even when theoretically they know all the words on their shirt, they haven’t really bothered to decipher the message. I like to talk about them in class sometimes. “I’m not from Ireland but you can still kiss me for luck” was one that we all translated together, and then I tried to explain the significance. Other common messages include things like “I’m not short, I’m fun-sized” (totally apt on that particular wearer), or “chocoholic” (we agreed that yes, that was appropriate for her character).

There are accidentally ironic t-shirts, like my student who tripped on the sidewalk one day because she was focusing so hard on her phone. I helped her up and then I laughed at her, because her shirt that day said, “Textaholic” with a big cartoony cell phone on it. “Do you know what your shirt means?” I asked her. “No, what?” she said. Oops.

Hands down, though, the t-shirts that most cause my hysterics are the wildly improper and inappropriate ones, especially when the user seems completely oblivious. Like the seemingly nice and attentive father walking down the street one day holding his kids hand and talking to him in a gentle voice. He was wearing a shirt that said in big bold, all-capital letters, “Shut up and take it in the butt”- I am not even exaggerating; that’s what it said! I thought, “Surely he’s clueless. He has to be in the dark. Should I fill him in? What if he already knows?”  How many other English-speakers are walking around in shock about his t-shirt? Let us all be in shock; it’s kinda fun.

I also love that students in the strict, conservative university where I work wear outrageous messages on their clothing.  I’m always wondering, “Do you not get it, or are you using people’s assumed lack of English to wear really semi-scandalous or risqué things?” They get away with it, I imagine, because it’s in English. Like one of my little 18 year old newbies this semester that showed up the other day wearing a shirt with some cartoon character on it, but in all caps above the image it said, “FUCK!!!!!!!!!!” (Seriously, with like 10 exclamation marks) And below the image it said “I’m high” with another 18 exclamation marks. Based on what I know of her so far, I bet this student has never even seen illegal drugs in her life, but I love the accidental audacity of her wearing this in front of all these uptight administrators, these folks checking their clipboards, making sure nobody’s sitting on the lawn. Bless. It’s a bit like this shirt below, so inappropriate that it’s kind of awesome:


A more mildly inappropriate one from a student has a picture of a toaster and a slice of bread in conversation. The toaster says, “I want you inside me.” The bread is saying “That’s hot.” Nice and cheeky. Unfortunately, since my students often don’t know what their shirt means, it lowers the cool factor a bit in my eyes. When it’s a naughty or outlandish message, I now prefer not to ask if they get it. I let myself assume that they know so I can appreciate their small rebellion.

Because the internet never ceases with its capacity to add to my cheer (thank you, Google images, thank you!), I found some more fun stuff to make my day. Below are some shirts I’m totally getting for my next trip to the US.

How about you guys? What ridiculous shirts make your day? Shirts in English? Spanish? Share the giggles!


This reminds me of how my Nonna used to pronounce the video game system Neen-TEEN-do. I’m gonna sport it so all the Spanish speakers in the US can wonder if I have a clue what it says (it means, I don’t even understand). 


Eres un pendejo means “you’re an idiot” hehehehe