Tag Archives: immigration

Can Hot Dogs Make You More American? Thoughts on Assimilation

26 Mar

The immigrants in this country are not a very assimilated group. They stick out at first glance, with their differently colored skin, distinctive height, and other such physical features. I guess it’s not polite to talk about the physical things they can’t change, though.

It doesn’t stop there, however. Half of them don’t even seem to try to speak the language. Even the ones that do try to learn often speak it incorrectly, or with an accent that makes it difficult to understand. They tend to cluster together, too, living in the same few areas of town. They frequent businesses owned by other foreigners, speaking their foreign languages, eating their foreign foods, buying their imported items. It’s preventing them from becoming patriotic, assimilated citizens.

Many of these foreigners don’t have their immigration paperwork in order, either. Some of them come in and out of the country every few months on tourists visas, even though they’re living here, sometimes working under the table, and that is breaking the law! Sure, some of these people have married citizens or have children who are citizens, but who’s to say that they’re not just using that as a way to get their papers?

Worse than that, right here in this city, these foreigners are taking the best national resources for themselves. The areas of town where they crowd together are nice areas, where some good, legal citizen could be living instead. Many of them have high-paying jobs, which, once again, could be going to citizens. Many of them aren’t even contributing properly to the economy and paying taxes; instead they are doing work online or running some overseas business, thus bypassing the local economy.

There is no uproar here about this immigration problem, however, because this is Mexico, and these immigrants are white. Because racism is alive and well all over the globe in different forms, and yet it is never discrimination against white people, even when they are the minority, even when they do the exact same things that black and brown people suffer for.

So I walk around unsanctioned, speaking only English to my children, trusting that they will learn Spanish sufficiently in school and in society at large. When people do comment about it, they are curious or encouraging, not aggressive and hateful. I speak Spanish pretty well, but even after more than a decade of practice, I make mistakes. I go to work at a decent-paying job, where my job is held exclusively for foreigners. Nobody questions my right to be there. When I first moved here, I came on a tourist visa, because I hadn’t yet been able to figure out how to get a visa to live here, until months after I’d moved here. And when I did finally go to the right authorities for my immigration paperwork, they were incredibly helpful, and I was entitled to a lot of things just by virtue of having a child with Mexican citizenship. (Plus the immigration officials here are so nice they are saint-like, which is not the typical experience in my country). Being a white immigrant here is a similar story to what white people in rich nations decry: not assimilating. Except nobody is denouncing the white immigrants here, or anywhere else.

(For example, this article points out that there are an estimated 50,000 Irish immigrants in the US who don’t have their paperwork in order, and yet they’re not being targeted for deportation. More evidence that the real goal is to make the country whiter.)

 

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Are you an assimilated immigrant in Mexico when you know how to make good salsa? Are you assimilated in the US when you can grill hot dogs? Who gets to define this stuff, anyway?

So you can imagine my dismay when I was reading about a bill being proposed in the US to limit the number of legal immigrants coming into the US. Of course this might have personal repercussions for my family, potential reducing the chances of my husband getting a visa. Beyond being worried about that, though, I was struck dumb when I read one explanation of the reasoning behind it:

“In the House of Representatives, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, expects to propose a companion bill to reduce immigration. He is concerned about immigrant enclaves growing in metropolitan areas.  ‘When you have so many immigrants being admitted, they tend to cluster together, they tend to maybe be a bit more slow in learning the English language, to becoming acculturated, to becoming patriotic Americans,’ Smith says.” (from this article from National Public Radio)

First I was pissed because he should have said “be slower” and not “more slow” (or said learn more slowly, if that’s how he wanted to say it). If you’re going to talk smack about other people learning your language, then you better have perfect grammar and diction yourself, fool. Secondly, I bet you a million dollars he has not learned any other languages and has no clue what it takes. (Plus many immigrants already speak English, too, but obviously these “representatives” of ours do not give a damn about facts.)

So, okay, maybe I’m being petty about the language thing. What about the whole humanity aspect? Let’s say I’m not overreacting. Let’s say it’s just exactly what he says. Let’s pretend he’s even worried about immigrants’ well-being. He wants them to speak the national language so they have equal access to all that the US has to offer. How is limiting the number of immigrants coming into the country going to help people learn English and culturally adapt? Is the reasoning that if they feel more isolated and set apart, they will become more patriotic? I know; perhaps the theory is that they will be forced to learn English faster if they don’t know anybody who speaks their language. So does that mean that we will also be putting caps on how many immigrants who speak the same language can be in one city, just to make sure they don’t meet up and speak their language too much? Should we limit how many immigrants are in one neighborhood? Bar foreign languages from the street? Is that where he’s heading with this? Because limiting the number of new legal immigrants to the country, especially when you’re preventing people’s husbands, wives, children, and mothers from coming in, is not going to teach people better English.

If the goal were actually to help new immigrants speak English and be a more integral, connected part of US society, there are ways to go about that. (Why, why, why does my country not use any of the research about ANYTHING?!?! Why do we even have research, people?) For example, my favorite librarian holds English practice exchanges, where English speakers (citizens, immigrants who are fluent, etc.) pair up with English language learners for conversation and camaraderie every week. I suspect that helps people learn English and feel like they’re part of our fabulous community much more than potentially denying entry to people’s family members- because, sorry, we’ve reached our limit for this year. Let’s be honest. Legislative actions like these are not about helping immigrants, or about keeping us safe. It’s not about having a more unified-yet-non-homogenous country. It’s about having a more homogenous, whiter country. It’s about keeping out more of the “different” people.

Not only is his opinion full of hypocrisy and racism, but it also reflects an utter lack of empathy. I suspect he is as clueless about being uprooted (willingly or not) as he is about language learning.

He obviously doesn’t fathom what it’s like to long for pieces of home. To need to express something that’s deep in your spirit, and not have the right words in your adopted language. To feel your heart soar with a certain song and not have anyone to share it with. To crave certain fruits or certain dishes so desperately that nothing you eat tastes good for weeks on end.

He doesn’t understand anything about needing someone to recognize you. How there are completely trivial things that become crucial, because the need for recognition, understanding, and acceptance is essential. For me, this translates into things like wishing that someday I could just go out and purchase biscuits and gravy, instead of taking all the time to make it myself. It means that every winter I cry at some point because I might never eat my mama’s chili on a cold night again. It means that even if there’s karaoke in English, no one will understand the irony in my song choice. (Nevermind that I only used to do karaoke like once a year.) It means there’s no place to publicly dance in my style, to my kind of music. It means that I would kill for a group of people to play spades with. (Nevermind that it’s just a card game. This is life! This is me!) I’ll even admit that now I have even watched the Kentucky Derby, out of sheer nostalgia, although I never cared when I was there and I’m even a bit ethically opposed to horse racing. (Don’t worry, though, I don’t want to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken or anything else that absurdly unlike me. I want home comforts and a context for my identity, not cheap grease with my state’s name on it.)

When you live far away from where you became you, there are certain things that you need to be your security blanket. You’re putting down your roots somewhere else, and the sun will still shine to nourish you, but even plants grow better in good company. Anybody who’s ever been outside of their comfort zone knows that your soul needs bits and pieces from home to keep yourself in perspective when you’re in a different context. This is my truth, and this is the reason that all immigrants need some quality time with folks from their country- and preferably folks from their region, and even better if it’s family. Everyone needs recognition, even (especially) immigrants and refugees.

So let’s not use immigrant communities and languages as an excuse to further a white surpremist agenda, please and thank you. Let’s call out racism for what it is, and instead work to build bridges between our cultures and languages. If you’re in Louisville, Kentucky, you can even pop on down to the library to share and get to know your community better. And if you are in Puerto Escondido and you know how to play spades (or want to learn), please come find me!

 

P.S . Please note I am not against folks who travel or live somewhere and don’t know the language or don’t otherwise “assimilate.” Everyone has their own reasons and their own process.I am not against white people in my adopted city, either, obviously, although I am very against hypocrisy and racism. I am not saying the description above fits all foreigners in this area (just like there is no uniform immigrant experience in the US), but it truly is the case here that white folks are doing the exact same things that black and brown immigrants do in other places, but in the US and elsewhere they get not just criticized, but also threatened, beaten, deported, and killed over it. Reverse racism does not exist!

Our Mexerican Christmas Spirit

8 Jan

 

“But Santa didn’t come to my house!” one of my students jokingly complained when I told her my new shoes (“princess shoes” as Lucia calls them) were from Santa Claus. “Sometimes, especially when you’re an adult,” I replied, “you just have to make your own magic.” I told her how I even took the time to wrap them up, even though I’d bought them for myself. I acted like it was a surprising gift when I opened it- not to trick my kids, but rather to enjoy myself.

 

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My princess shoes from Santa Claus

This year was by far my best Christmas as a grown up. It was very much not USA-style and also not Mexican-style. It was very much ours, a lovely mix of traditions and inventions and doing what feels good and makes people happy. (Satisfied Sigh.)

 

As Christmas neared here in Puerto, I remained blissfully isolated from all the consumerist, excessively capitalist culture that overwhelms the holiday season in the US. Plus the temperature is in the 80s every day, so it’s easy to feel blissful, or at least generous and optimistic.

 

I was excessively lucky in the capitalism department this Christmas, so I tried to spread the wealth-based joy around (nope, wealth and joy are not the same thing, but sometimes a thoughtfully purchased thing can bring great joy). I got my Christmas bonus from work (Thank you, Mexico!) I got money from family to spend on Christmas (a shit-pot-full when you convert those dollars into pesos!! Thank you, family!) I immediately went out and got WILD AND CRAZY! I was a spending machine. I bought all three of the books I liked for the kids instead of deciding on two! I bought a tree-topper star that cost 1/3 of what the tree cost, just because it was the best and I knew Lucia would love it. It was a major shopping extravaganza, at least compared to my usual non-spending, thrifty self.

 

When it came time to open presents, it didn’t seem like I had been on a wild and savage shopping binge. The kids each got six presents, plus two stocking stuffers from the elves. Six presents is a lot around here, although it’s practically nothing in the US. Some of their presents were items that they needed anyway, like a new towel for Khalil, and new shoes for Lucia. They each got two new books, because, you know, priorities. Khalil got a new puzzle, with an easy part he can do himself and a harder part that Lucia has to help him with (I patted myself on the back extra on that one). The elves brought us new mugs, including mini-sized mugs (delicate glass, says Lucia) for the kiddos. I immediately made hot chocolate to break them in, of course. The elves also brought us new bath sponges, with different colored squares meshed into the loufa part- and that continues to totally thrill the children, even days later.

 

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Our tree,  complete with presents (guitar is an old present)

Aha, I said to myself! This is what makes giving gifts so marvelous! When it makes somebody sincerely excited or pleased because of this useful or interesting thing that you thought of for them, gift-giving is utterly joyful. Sitting around drinking hot chocolate with our matching mugs was so surprisingly fulfilling. Watching Khalil be able to open presents for the first time, appreciating his rapture in tearing paper, was so gratifying. Even when Lucia cast aside the book I had ordered her off of Amazon for the more graphically-enticing one, it was okay. Days later, once she finally wanted to read it, she asked to read it about 7 times straight. It’s so endorphin-producing, this gifting thing done well. When giving gifts is obligatory, when you’re too strapped for cash or don’t have a clue about what someone would truly enjoy, that’s when gift-giving is a nightmare. But this having small children who are stoked about everything? Gift-giving nirvana.

 

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Khalil showing me how he’s going to drink from his new mug

So I’ve willingly spent more money on non-emergency items in the past two weeks than I have possibly in the past few years. But I’m not worrying about spoiling my kids. I have zero worries about my kids becoming thing-obsessed Me!Me!Me!Monsters. First and foremost because they don’t watch TV. No ads = less implanted desire for crap. Number two, because they aren’t surrounded by kids who have everything they want and another 82 billion things they might or might not even want. Number three, because I am their mother and Conan is their father and neither of us are especially materialistic. Number four, because they already have a room full of toys strewn about everywhere, thanks to birthday parties and grandparents and whatnot. We’ve probably bought about 10 of the 100 items currently being showcased on the bedroom floor. They have plenty, but they don’t get new stuff all the time; mostly only on their birthday, Christmas, and certain grandparent visits. I feel like it’s a pretty happy medium, and I’m grateful that my “village” is there to help make some of my kids’ material dreams happen.

 

So what else did I buy with my Christmas bonus money, besides these few gifts for the kids? I bought them a #$%^damn Christmas tree, for the first time, finally. Since it was the first Christmas we spent here, at our house with electricity and not in Juquila at my mother-in-law’s, I decided it was time. Well, maybe I bought it mostly because my four year old asked me relentlessly if we were going to decorate the Christmas tree yet, until finally I just had to make time to run out and buy one. Every single morning she’d ask, “Are we going to decorate the Christmas tree? Can we do it now? No? After school?” And every day I’d be like, “I still have to buy the Christmas tree. We can only decorate it on the weekend.” (Because we literally have about 10 minutes of time where all four of us are together and awake on week days.) So finally I made time to go select our permanent plastic tree.  A fake one, mind you, because there are not a lot of real pine trees around here, and they don’t cut them down and sell them for Christmas.

 

After I bought it, I still had to listen to a couple more days of whining about decorating it now, today, right now. “We can do it with Papi while you’re at work,” she reassured me on Friday morning, trying to convince me it didn’t require the whole family. (“I don’t think so, my darling. I want to do it with you.” I countered.)  “We don’t need to wait for Papi,” she insisted on Saturday morning, and I insisted that we could indeed wait a few more hours.

 

Once it was a reality, Lucia told me about 20 times that day some version of, “I’m so happy we decorated the Christmas tree!” Thankfully, Conan weighed down one side of our tree with a concrete block, which made it last several days longer than the 16 hours that I estimated before the nearly-two year-old destroyed it or got destroyed by it. It has zero breakable ornaments on it, so I’m also winning there. (Perhaps it’s a blessing that I can’t find the Xmas decorations I bought the first year we were in Mexico?)

 

What else did I lavishly purchase, you ask? I got all the ingredients to make Christmas cookies, including sprinkles and glittery edible stuff and store-bought icing, because, sorry, Martha Stewart, some of your recipes are too damned hard. It took me (us?) about 4 days to make cookies this year, mostly because the little one is neither little enough for lots of nap time nor big enough to actually help. Mostly he wreaked his usual havoc upon the process, until I got smart and gave him and Lucia their own bowl of flour and measuring spoons and such to work with on their own, AWAY from the big-girl cookies. Even then, I only made two dozen cookies before I officially declared that they had done a great job, and we are finished now. I refrigerated the rest of the dough. I ended up making cookies late at night and early in the morning in the days that followed so that we’d have enough to give everyone. I let Lucia decorate enough for everyone to get one decorated one. That was all I could handle, since each cookie took about 7 minutes to decorate, all the while fighting off Khalil who immediately devoured the cookies I gave him to decorate. He is right at the perfect age of being big enough to understand that he is not supposed to eat the cookies (he’d point to his mouth and shake his head no) but unable to actually resist the impulse, shoveling the cookie into his mouth immediately after telling himself not to.

 

More than anything, it was important to me to make cookies so that the kids get excited about giving gifts almost as much as receiving. I don’t think they are capable of appreciating the giving quite as much as us adults can be, but at least if they get in the habit and have a good time doing it, it’s a start. “I’m going to give them the bag of cookies and they’re going to hug me and say, ‘Gracias,’” Lucia told me, smiling and giddy after we sorted them. It’s a start.

 

So what else, you ask, did I purchase on my rampage? I got gifts for the parents who have covered our butts by fearlessly, selflessly driven Lucia to school this whole school year so far. I donated to the White Helmets in Syria (Dear universe, it’s the least I could do). I determined what gift I plan to give when my buddy in the copy room has his (and his wife’s) twins in spring. I chipped in on the massage gifts for Lucia’s teachers (thanks, other parents, for organizing that business). I’ve spent almost all of my Xmas money on local vendors, carefully avoiding our two or three big-time department stores (yep, only a few in existence here).

 

I’m feeling pretty damned satisfied about my overall Christmas experience- perhaps for the first time in my adult life. Besides being excited about gift-giving, I was also feeling extra good this Christmas for various other reasons. For one, I made awesome lists and got a large portion of my shopping done in one day, even with Khalil strapped to me (high-five to myself!). Some other random good stuff happened, but mostly the thing is that this year I was pretty much thrilled with everything. I adopted the attitude of my children that everything is fabulous.

 

In part, it’s that I’m for-real in my 30s and I don’t have to wait around for someone else to give me permission to do something, or to join me in my joy. I know what my mission is and I will figure out how to accomplish it, mostly on my own, and still enjoy the hell out of it, thank you. So, for example, when the four year old won’t shut up about decorating a Christmas tree, but you don’t even have a tree to decorate? Go out and buy one on your lunch break. (Or do like we did last year and get a tree stub with various branches to decorate. It totally works.) Plastic trees even fit on the bus. Your coparent doesn’t like shopping? Great. Make your list and go. When there’s no one to ask, you can make yourself be more decisive in your purchases without anyone being upset about it. No one around who’s a brilliant gift-chooser and you don’t want to be disappointed? Buy it for yourself and wrap it. Or at least snap a photo of what you want and send it to someone who might buy you a gift. You are kind of a grinch but kind of a jolly old person? Figure out what traditions reflect your values and hopes, what things bring meaning and joy to your family’s life, and make a valiant effort to follow through with those. Throw the rest out the window. Don’t kill yourself doing even the things that you think are worthwhile. This year, just making cookies was so hectic that the craft-making/gifting I planned with Lucia was over the top. Maybe another time. All of this is my teensy-tiny tidbit of self-wisdom as I near my 33rd birthday. It was so helpful for me. (Who in the world really wants to go back in time? Ugh.)

 

Despite some of my concerns, I decided to do the whole Santa Claus thing with the kids, for now, while it can still be somewhat vague magic. Once Lucia starts asking intense questions (beyond the current, “What’s a chimney?”), I’m gonna have to give her a more-real explanation. But I’m already thinking about how to phrase it all, because we are not giving up on magic. Magic there will be- every Christmas and all kinds of days in between. Because sometimes, or maybe usually, when you’re a grown-up, you have to make it for yourself. You have to make it for other people, too. That is the magic. Sharing the joy. Sharing the power of our love. So better “late” than never, happy holidays and Happy, Happy Magic-making and Joy-sharing, from my Mexerican family to yours!

Reversing Course: Appreciation of Things I Used to Loathe

30 Dec

Now that I am almost completely acclimated and comfortable here in Puerto Escondido, I’m ready to start thinking about leaving. Go ahead and shake your head; it might be a little crazy. Apparently I equate comfort with stagnation, or so it would seem based on the course of my life thus far.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking lots about why I love it here now, and the multitude of things and people that I’ll miss when I move back to the states. I’ve been reflecting on all the things that I disliked when I first arrived in small-town Oaxaca that now make me feel kinda warm and fuzzy.* Here are a few of the things I’ve adapted to appreciate.

Anti-Safety:

I don’t love the lack of safety, per-se. I do think that it’s nice to not need lids that caution you about hot coffee being hot. I appreciate that kids can be trusted to differentiate the chocolate in a chocolate egg from the plastic toy inside that is too big to choke on anyway. I love that nobody’s actions are based around whether or not they might get sued. It certainly makes a cliff more thrilling when there is no railing to prevent you or the cars from falling off the giant cliff into the abyss. I like the tremor of excitement from the occasional motorcycle ride, the breeze in my hair when I’m riding in the back of a pick-up truck. I’ll miss seeing folks holding on to a bar, riding the back bumper of a truck. Furthermore, I think that the safety measures in place in the US aren’t typically there to protect vulnerable people, and they don’t protect everyone equally. For example, they don’t want kids to have those chocolate eggs with toys in them, but they expect refugee kids to defend themselves in court (but that’s part of a whole ‘nuther rant, I guess).

While sometimes I think the lack of safety measures here is the opposite extreme, I’m no longer shocked by it. I might have gotten nervous watching the one year old I saw the other day, standing up and bouncing up and down on the moving motorcycle with his parents, no helmet for anyone. But I didn’t freak out at anyone. The electrical socket that my kid tried to stick his fingers in among the baby books in the library this year was a bit unreasonable, in my opinion, but I distracted my kid and kept my mouth shut. I still can’t quite appreciate the irony of not having soap in the bathroom of a hospital or clinic. But mostly I am able to laugh about it all. In the van to Juquila this trip, I was marveling at the seat belt situation. Even after years of being here, even though I’m not shocked- it’s still a little baffling. They took such pains to make sure that nobody ever uses the seat belts- folding them up neatly and putting plastic cuffs around them, just to be on the safe side (hahaha).

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Seatbelts? What are those things for?

I certainly appreciate this forcing me to go with the flow more, to just breathe my prayer into the wind and keep going, something I might never have learned to do raising kids in the US.

(Isn’t culture funny, though? This culture is not big on some kinds of safety, but people do vaccinate their kids, almost religiously- partially because it’s free. Women will totally wait in line for 3 hours, a few days postpartum, to diligently vaccinate their baby. It’s pretty impressive what public health campaigns could do if they put the resources into it. Imagine what things would look like if they gave out helmets for kids!)

Anti-Technological-Dependence:
When we first moved to Juquila, in 2012, that first month we ran out of everything. We spent a couple days with no water for washing (or flushing, etc. Yeah. Think about all the implications of no water). The electricity went out for a day and a half. We ran out of drinking water and the truck with the big jugs just wasn’t coming. Sometimes the cell phone wires were so saturated that you could’t make a phone call. The internet went down in the whole town for a week. I couldn’t imagine how all this lack of services and technology was possible. How can people live like this? I didn’t even realize then that that would be my “easy” life, compared to living in Puerto without electricity.

More than anything, living on little-to-no technology for all this time has reframed my ideas about necessity. We’ve now spent a year and a half in our house with electricity- the same amount of time we spent without it. I still feel grateful every morning that I plug in the coffee maker, every night that a fan blows on us, every time Khalil goes to flip the switch all by himself- a baby who can take electricity for granted. We’ve made so much progress, and I don’t really want to live without any of it. But I know that I can. Doing without has trained me to ask a lot of questions about what’s important in life.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Google. I love my National Public Radio news. I love the Hurricane preparedness website. I love exchanging morning emails with my mom while I’m at work. I dream of all the music I would have Youtube access to with home internet. Khalil and I just did a video call with my mom while visiting in Juquila, and it was so fun! It made me think that the whole feel of my life might be different with at-home internet. Publishing a blog every week would be less of a monumental challenge, among other things. I could read all of the interesting articles that my friends post on Facebook. I could convert celsius to fahrenheit when my kid has a fever without having to call my mom.

It would be helpful to have internet. But really, I don’t need to read all of the articles on Facebook. Even the fact that this year I got a cell phone with Facebook access was another good news/bad news scenario. It’s nice to be able to “keep in touch” like that, but some days it just makes me feel more alone and isolated. I can’t actually get together with most of the people I’m friends with- even the ones who live here, thanks to stressful schedules and whatnot. Thus, I also have my doubts about the true benefits of at-home internet, as much as I pine for it sometimes.

All in all, I’m still a technological dinosaur, a bit by choice and a bit by force. But I hope I keep myself in check despite having a smartphone. I hope I never read all the articles my friends post on Facebook, even though someday I will have home internet. I hope I keep asking myself what is really necessary and what is most important with the time and resources that I have.

Anti-Fashion:

If you know me, you know that I have loved thrift stores and other discount styles forever. Y’all know that I’m staunchly against the wastefulness, expense, and tedium of following fashion rules invented by anyone but yourself. That said, I’ve always had my own version of fashion rules. Like, if you wear some color, wear plenty of black, too. No flower prints. Those sort of rules I made for myself. I didn’t apply them to anyone else, and yet other sorts of rules had seeped into me from living in the states. So I was a bit taken aback by what, in my former life, would be labeled tackiness. When I saw a group of folks in matching spray-painted Jesus shirts, for example, I raised my eyebrows. Or when people wore a polka dot shirt with striped pants. What?!

Living in the land of fashion anarchy has slowly changed my patterns and liberated me from fashion judgment I wasn’t even particularly conscious of before. Granted, you will never convince this boot-obsessed, Tank-Girl type to run around in flip flops all the time like so many folks around here. I still have my own brand of fashion. But I sure have changed my ideas of appropriate attire. I love that there is complete and utter apathy and lack of consensus about what combinations are okay. Anything goes! Sweat pants and flip flops- cool. Prom-type dresses- whenever the mood strikes. A suit with sandals- absolutely correct. Yoga pants for class- very hip. There are no rules! I love this anti-fashion!

The other day I found myself wearing blue shorts, a purple shirt with different colored polka dots, a red hairband, and pink shoes with orange laces. I glanced in the mirror before I walked out the door and decided that it totally worked, and walked out laughing at myself for ever having thought that I shouldn’t look like a rainbow all the time. I have branched out from mini-skirts to include shorts, especially cut-offs, in my out-on-the-town attire. For work, I have many different pants, including various capri-type things. I often wear jeans, a tank top, and tennis shoes to work, thrilled that this is my professional professor get-up. Only in paradise! (Somehow this is okay, women in cocktail dresses or with raging cleavage is fine, but they draw the line at male professors wearing shorts of any kind. Men showing their legs is offensive and unprofessionally. I will never understand.)

I am not looking forward to having to wear more professional clothing in the future. Also, I have really had to face the fact that using what you wear as a form of self-expression is a privilege that many, many people don’t have. It’s important food for thought.

Anti-Following-the-Guidelines and Comparing-Children:

The first time we tried to take Lucia to a doctor for a check-up, the doctor kept asking, “But what’s wrong with her? Why do you want me to see her?” There are no check-ups here. There are no guidelines about childhood development. It was very disappointing, at first. And I worried about one of Lucia’s cousins, who still wasn’t really talking at age three, when Lucia was already talking in whole paragraphs at age two. Nobody else was worried, though. Instead they proclaim, “Oh, so-and-so still couldn’t pronounce half his words correctly at 6 years old.” Big old shrug. But have they gotten him checked out for problems? Nope. He’ll be fine.

I am sure that sometimes kids do have actual health or developmental problems and it would be beneficial to be checked out by a doctor, and to have routine wellness check-ups. For example, we discovered that Khalil was anemic even though he didn’t seem to have any health problems- thanks to check-ups with our fabulous pediatrician. However, I love that there is zero competition for your kid being “advanced” in their development. There is no judgment if your kid doesn’t fall in the standard guidelines on walking/talking/getting teeth/etc. Moms may compare notes and say, “My kid only has four teeth and yours has 10 already!” But they aren’t implying that your kid is better because they have ten. If your kid already talks at a year, they might even be impressed for a split second, but nobody thinks it’s weird or wrong or bad that some other kid isn’t really talking at three. If your kid’s not walking well at a year and a half, people are like, “oh, she doesn’t want to walk yet.” And that’s it- on to the next topic.

A happy medium would be nicer, where people in small town Mexico have more access to routine check-ups and help if something actually is going wrong in the child’s development. Meanwhile, the US needs to chill out quite a bit on fitting everyone into the same developmental boxes. And parents in the US need to take a good hard look at how not to judge and compete about things that aren’t even reasonable competitions!

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my fearless little busy bee/social butterfly who’s not ready to talk at almost two

Anti-Convenience:

When we moved here, the fact that it could take days to complete a simple errand was heavily disheartening on a daily basis. The slow-lane lifestyle, of every day being completely filled just with carrying out the basic necessities of life was maddening and gut-wrenching. But I’ve adapted and learned how to make this pace more convenient now. Sure, it would still be nice to find decent frozen veggies or canned garbanzo beans that didn’t cost a day’s wage, but now I freeze my own everything for later convenience; I work with the pace of life in many ways. And there is convenience food here. I love that the only kind of “fast food” is the stuff women make at home and sling in the streets- delicious stuff like tamales, healthy stuff like cut-up fruit, and worth-the-calories treats like homemade donuts.

Also, I love the other type of conveniences that are here, especially the way that so much stuff comes right to your door. Our drinking water jugs, propane gas tanks, and sometimes even freshly made tortillas, all get delivered. People pass by selling ice cream in their little push cart, or buying your used aluminum in their beat-up truck. Women carry giant baskets of fresh bread on their heads, or someone drives around a motorcycle with fish fresh from the sea. It takes a lot of adapting, and at the end of the day it’s still not easy- but it isn’t easy anywhere, I don’t think.

This year was extra challenging because we’d gotten accustomed to having a car that worked most of the time. Then it became a car that only worked sometimes. And right after we started sending Lucia to school on the complete other side of town, our car went to transportation heaven.

Not having a car presented so many new challenges. Thanks to the good will of other parents, we were able to work out sending Lucia to school. Even then it wasn’t easy, although now I’ve learned to love my long walks with Khalil to go get the big sister. When it rained, I took my rainboots and my umbrella to work and got through it. When the clocks went back and it got dark before I left work, I faced my fears and biked home in the dark- a rock in hand for the over-aggressive dogs, flashlight in the other hand for that section with no lights- but I did it. I got sort of used to it. (I don’t think I’ll ever get used to people letting mean dogs wander the streets. It just doesn’t make sense to me. But whatever.) I learned how to tell taxi drivers, “That’s not what the price is” when they tried to charge me too much.

It’s another kind of adventure, the inconvenience of not having a car, and another opportunity for lots of thinking. You can think about how much harder other people have it, like the women and girls who walk miles for a bucket of water. You can actually notice flowers and cactus shapes and lizards and birds and the colors in the sky. You can count dump trucks (okay, this is probably only exciting if you’re with small children). You can appreciate the sunlight on your face. You can observe other people in the street- because lots of people are out walking, not just you. (Something so lacking in so many spots in the US) Riding a bus is a great chance to read- to yourself or to your kids. You can play games and really talk in a way that’s much harder when you’re driving. It’s an obligatory slowing-down of life, in some ways, although in other ways it makes you more stressed-out, because something simple like an errand or picking up a kid from school takes double the time. But it has been a good constant reminder for me that so many of life’s circumstances we don’t get to choose, but that we can choose how we react to them. It’s such a cliche on one hand, but it gets said all the time because it’s so valid, too. So I wouldn’t say I totally love all the inconveniences, especially not having a car, but I definitely appreciate it for what it is.

*(Nope, I still don’t love Juquila, though. That town seeps depression into my bone marrow upon arrival and it stays in my core until I’m safely back to the humidity of the coast. You just can’t love everything in life.)

Looking at the Road Ahead/Holding that Thought about Appreciation in the Midst of Adversity

We’re not planning a move back to the states because I dislike Mexico or the life we’ve made here. In fact, I like my life here now more than ever before. I have so many moments of joy and gratitude every day that I wake up in my imperfect “paradise.”

Partly, I know, though, that my joy and gratitude about my life here are because of my weight-lifting exercises in appreciation of life. My biggest “resolution” is to carry all this with me when I go back to the states. It won’t be too hard; I am a very different person than I was when I came here four and a half years ago. My gratitude/joy/appreciation muscles are much, much bigger than my anxiety and stress muscles these days. I still have anxiety. I still get overwhelmed in stress. I still need to complain some of the time. But I’m so much better at letting it go. And I’ll need that for the culture shock and adaptation that lies ahead.

Also planned for the coming year:

Goal #1- Read and write more in Spanish! I know it seems ridiculous, but my Spanish skills diminish every year that I’m here, thanks to being an English teacher and speaking to my children in English. My conversational Spanish is still decent, but my vocabulary is shrinking from not reading and writing in español. I’ve got to remedy that.

Goal #2- Find time for poetry! I managed to give myself an hour of free-writing time the other day, thanks to vacation. I played with words with no intention to publish them or keep the same train of thought. I let my creativity soar out and oh! I hadn’t even realized how sorely that was lacking in my life. I don’t know where or how I’m going to make time for more creative writing, but somehow I have to. Art and expression should not be luxuries; they are life.

What are your plans for the coming year? What are your big lessons you want to take with you from this year? What’s something you used to dislike that you’ve learned to appreciate?

 

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.

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See? That egg is no good afterwards. Apparently.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

Love,

Julia

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

 

 

Before You Point Fingers, ‘Merica

23 Jul

I know you guys are terrified of a Trump presidency, as well you should be. Many of you are threatening to immigrate to Canada. Personally, I don’t think that all of the non-fascist people moving to Canada is a legitimate answer, for a number of reasons I won’t delve into here (#1 being: if Trump gets elected I need you to stay in the US and fix the situation). I understand your thoughts about self-preservation, though, if Trump does get elected; moving would certainly be easier, although Trump would affect the whole world anyway.

With that national context in mind, though, someone on the Facebook feed asked why people aren’t threatening to move to Mexico instead of Canada. Someone else replied something like, “because Mexico’s dirty and dangerous and you can’t drink the water.”

I laughed hysterically. So the problem is you can’t drink the water in Mexico, huh? Neither can the people of Flint, Michigan. Neither should a large portion of children in schools who are being poisoned with lead daily (see here http://www.myajc.com/news/news/local-education/elevated-lead-levels-found-at-half-of-atlanta-scho/nrqXh/  And http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/03/11/nearly-2000-water-systems-fail-lead-tests/81220466/ )

And Mexico’s so dangerous? At least kids here can go to school without worrying about being shot. If you want to talk about dirty, let’s look at the pollution in the US. People in the US are dying more and more from illnesses related to air pollution, among other dirty problems.

Look at yourself for a minute, ‘Merica*, please, before you talk bad about another country. I’ll be the first to tell you that Mexico is full of corruption, for example. But the US is too, it’s just hidden a little better there. Here there is much more transparency about the corruption, for better or for worse. Nobody’s walking around calling Mexico the greatest country on Earth just because they’re from there and proud of it. Being proud isn’t the same as being blindly arrogant. I am proud to be from my country, and that’s exactly why I criticize the things that are wrong with it.

I didn’t get to write any of this to little buddy who posted the comment, unfortunately, because I was on Conan’s phone, scrolling and nursing my kid, too tired to sign in with my own account, so I didn’t pick a fight. (You’re welcome, Conan.) I meant to go back to the conversation from my account, but life got in the way. Now I can’t remember whose page it was on, so instead I decided to address those comments and, more importantly, that attitude, even more publicly. I hope you’re reading this, dude, and everyone else who feels this way about Mexico (I know, you’re probably not- but just in case). I’m writing this not just for that guy, but also for my whole country. It’s especially for all of my compatriots who, like this guy, are running around casting stones at other countries before they look in the mirror.

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Let me just say, in my humble opinion, the U.S. is not better than Mexico. The U.S. does some things way better, but Mexico is better in other ways. I’m from a fairly wealthy city in one of the poorest states in the USA, and now I’ve lived for almost four years in the poorest state of Mexico. In both places, essentially, if you have a lot of money, your life will be pretty easy, and if you’re poor you’ll have to struggle every day to get by. Some things are more developed in the US, like the road systems. Other things are better here, like more mandatory paid vacation and paid maternity leave. It’s true that Mexico does not have basic infrastructure at the same level as the U.S., which lowers the quality of living to some extent. (Here are some interesting comparisons, if you want to look at statistics: http://www.indexmundi.com/factbook/compare/mexico.united-states ). But there are a lot of other quality-of-life issues that aren’t mentioned in the reports (like walking to the end of my block to buy organic, free-range eggs from my neighbor for cheap, or like kids having freer childhoods here in Mexico: http://www.bizjournals.com/chicago/news/2012/12/10/the-marketing-store-in-chicago-knows.html;  and adults being happier, too: http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-happy-43-countries-are-2014-10  ).

I do think that escaping to Canada from the US is probably better than escaping to Mexico, for the same reasons that Canada is probably a better place to live than the US. For example, they have wonderful social policies like free universal healthcare, and more access to education. They work fewer hours and have less of a gap between the rich and the poor. Their country’s not so into the war-mongering and world-domination-by-any-means-necessary, just to name a few other pluses. (see more here: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/99-reasons-why-its-better-to-be-canadian/ )

My main drama, however, isn’t really about defending Mexico. Nor is my goal to compare Mexico, Canada and the US. It’s more an issue with the blatant hypocrisy and alarming ignorance of his statement. This nationalistic ignorance is characteristic of a frighteningly substantial amount of people in my country, as evidenced by the support of Trump as a legitimate presidential candidate. It’s an ignorance that not only harms those in other countries but also harms our own citizens and residents of the US.

The “We’re the Greatest” attitude is harmful to US residents and citizens because it obscures and ignores all of our shortcomings. And really, what are we the greatest at? Capitalism? Not even that, judging by the bank bailout. Greatest at health? Nope; we develop some great treatments but people’s access to healthcare is pretty low on the global scare, and our citizens are far from healthy in general. Are we the greatest at taking care of our citizens? We don’t even take care of our veterans, nor our old folks, nor our children. Our veterans are homeless and committing suicide. Our old folks are often mistreated or neglected in their nursing homes, or unable to make ends meet at home with the measly benefits they’ve acquired. Our babies and their mothers die at the highest rates of any “developed” nation. Our children are mostly receiving substandard education, and many of them are being poisoned by lead at school to boot. Furthermore, our police are killing off people of color at outrageous, we’re-talking-genocide rates. Our “justice” system is incarcerating the people of color that they’re not killing, along with some poor white folks, mostly to turn a profit in the prison industrial complex.  None of this qualifies us as great in my book.

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Muhammad Ali, a hero from my hometown, is indeed The Greatest. Let’s not get confused, guys. You can be proud to be from our country, but it ain’t the greatest at most things.

 

We are pretty great at making box office hits and making sure the rest of the world knows all about the capitalist aspects of our culture. We are pretty great at selling our  image of being a land of opportunity- a land where anyone can start out poor and become rich, just by working hard. We don’t talk about the systemic barriers to doing so, or the fact that pretty much no one ever has actually done it. But boy can we sell the idea to the masses.

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We harm ourselves, our own citizens, with this kind of posturing- this idea that we’re so much better than all the other countries- because, for one, it means we’re not demanding or even hoping for anything better. It means we’re more than content- we’re proud- with this as our status quo.

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Don’t get me wrong. I love my home country and many of the people in it. I criticize my country BECAUSE I love it, because I believe that we can- no, that we must– do better. We must do better for our people. For ALL our people- the ones whose land was stolen from them, the ones whose ancestors were stolen and enslaved to build our country, the ones who migrated and toiled to build our country and were then imprisoned or kicked out when expedient, to ALL for real this time, not the imaginary “all” of the Pledge of Allegiance. Our country needs a lot of work so that we can make it into all the things that we bill it as- a land of freedom from repression, a place of equality and opportunity. So far in our history, it hasn’t been that for most people. Buying into the hyperbole about the US and putting down other countries is not going to make anything great for anybody. Learning from each other would get us a lot farther. Somebody send a memo to these would-be leaders of ‘Merica.

I know I’m surely preaching to the choir by posting this on my blog. Sorry, guys, but I didn’t get to say it on Facebook, and you have to pay the price now. Nobody talks bad about my adopted country when their critiques can apply as well to their country. So all you guys with more internet access than I have can do me a favor and keep calling out the hypocrisy. And please, please, please DO NOT let Trump get elected. Or I’m serious- there won’t be any moving to Canada or even Mexico. You’re gonna have to stay and make our country GREAT for everybody, for the first time ever.

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*I have a hard time calling my beloved home country “America” because it’s geographically misleading and a bit offensive politically. “America” is an entire continent, and therefore it’s more than a tad presumptuous to use the name to refer to just one of the many countries within the continent.

 

Let Me Introduce This Year’s Children

14 Jul

Yes, I have the same two children as last year; stores here don’t usually take returns or exchanges, after all. But it’s been a year since our last visit to my hometown, and a lot changes in a year, especially when you’re young. I thought it’d be nice to paint you a brief picture, so you don’t have quite so much catching up to do. Plus, I’ve been talking to the kids all about you guys that we’re going to see in Kentucky- about everything we’re going to do, all the fun times and the naps to be had (cross your fingers for me on nap time). It’s only fair to give you guys the same type of introduction before we get there.

And if you’re not in Louisville, Kentucky, then you can still have a little virtual introduction to my ferocious little treasures. Somehow they manage to fill my whole being with joy and gratitude, even though they’re undomesticated terrorists in their spare time.

My sweet Khalil Michael couldn’t even crawl on our last visit, and now at a year and a third (hehe), there’s no stopping him. He is running amok and imitating his sister as much as possible. He can wash his own hands, put the lid on something and take it off, go and try to find his shoes (nearly always MIA). He attempts to jump, although he can’t quite pull it off yet. His most important job in life right now, according to him, is giving the empty garafón (giant water bottle) to the water delivery man. As soon as he hears the truck honk its horn outside, he goes on alert. If you tell him, “Get the garafón,” he starts screaming in urgency, and tears across the floor to get the empty bottle. Then he races from the kitchen, across the living room, to the front door, carrying the bottle that’s almost as big as he is, making his excited yelling noises the whole time. He’s no longer satisfied with just handing over the empty one, either- he wants to help pick up the full bottle and carry it inside. He even makes the loud grunting-with-effort noise as he tries to pick it up. It’s a pretty important job, after all.

 

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washing hands together- Little Brother loves to do what Big Sister does. 

This is serious business, people. Somebody has to get the garafón out the door.

I love how when he asks a question he holds his arms out just like I do, granddaughter of a gesticulating, expressive Italian that I am. I love all of his unique invented sign language, like the way he flexes his fingers when he wants to be picked up, like his version of a “come hither” signal. I love the way he blows kisses to me when he realizes I’m about to go to work. I love his tender, prolonged hugs and even his disgusting, gooey kisses, where he opens his mouth wide and slobbers over yours. He is so affectionate when the mood strikes him. The other day, as we were leaving somewhere, he turned and twisted from my grasp to dashed back down the sidewalk to a little girl he’d played with, and he gave her a big fat hug. I also can appreciate his firm boundaries, like that he yells belligerently if I’m trying to love on him when he’s declared that it’s playtime.

I love that he doesn’t wait for story time. He picks up a book and pushes it at you, grunting and insisting until you read it to him. But he doesn’t want you to read it to him the way it says on the page. He wants to open to random pages, point at the things he’d like you to discuss, and go from there. There’s no reading just front to back- reading is multidirectional and the book is finished when he decides there’s something more interesting to explore elsewhere. And in case you didn’t want to lift him up so he can reach the books, he has now learned to push one of our plastic chairs over to the book shelf and climb up onto it by himself. (This same chair-pushing/climbing tactic also means that NOTHING is safe from his tiny hands in our house anymore, unfortunately.)

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Even though this book has totally fallen apart, he loves this lone page and “reads” it constantly.

Then there’s little miss Lucia, who is now a big ole FOUR year old. And boy did she get the talking gene from her mama. She has all kinds of great four year old reasoning to entertain, cajole, and madden us. For example, she refuses to believe that she and Khalil were in my belly at different points in time, even though she witnessed my pregnancy. She’s always telling me about how she was pushing Khalil and sharing toys with him in my belly. Shrug. Life is mysterious.

Lately she’s really into figuring out the time in all kinds of funny ways. “All day” is one of her favorite expressions, although I’m not sure she can really grasp it in the same space-time continuum that I’m in. Like when I cook something and she’s displeased about it, she says, “I don’t wanna just eat that ALL DAY!” As if that were the only thing available for consumption the entire day, or week even. The other day, after I told her she needed a nap because it would make her feel better, she told me that no, she really needed to watch a video, because that was going to make her “feel better all day.”Also now she says, “What time is it?” Then you tell her and she asks, “What’s that mean?” She’s working on days of the week, too, although the only one that really counts is sábado. It’s all about ‘how many more days until Mommy stays home from work’. Yep, she’s a Mommy’s girl.

She also obviously has not been exposed to much television. Don’t get me wrong, she loves her videos- her current obsession being “Big Dora” (the teenage-ish version of Dora, where she plays guitar in a band). But she takes creative license with whatever she sees around her, and runs with it. Like she asked one of her tias (aunts) to make a princess dress for her birthday, like the “purple princess.” (I have no idea which one that is or where she saw it, but it’s cool.) She told me one day that she doesn’t want to brush her hair because she saw that princesses just wear their hair “like this,” she says, fluffing out her already curly, tangled hair even more. (Good try, kiddo.)

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In her “Purple Princess” dress with her new rocket ship (the only thing she wanted for her birthday, besides a party)

Her conversational skills paint a pretty fascinating picture of the little kid mind at work (fascinating according to me, although I might be biased). Here’s an example conversation with Lucia from a couple months ago:

“Mommy, can I go see Dr. Seuss?” She’s impressed because I’ve just told her that Dr. Seuss wrote the words AND drew and colored all the pictures for the book. She’s noticed that most books have the person who wrote the book and a different person who drew the pictures.

“No, because he’s in heaven, like Paw Paw.” (Yeah, I know- I didn’t really plan to teach her about heaven, it’s just worked out that way.)

“Mommy, where’s heaven?” (Previously she’d asked me, “Mommy, where’s Kevin?” which brought on a ridiculous who’s-on-first kind of accidental routine)

“It’s way, way, way up in the sky, past where the airplanes can go.”

“Is Dr. Seuss dancing in heaven?”

“Maybe so, baby. I’m not sure. If he likes to dance, he’s probably dancing.”

“Can I go to heaven someday?”

“Yes. But not for a long, long, long time. When you’re older than Mommy.” (silent prayer)

“And then I can be with Dr. Seuss?”

“Yes, and Paw Paw, and all the other great people in heaven.”

Finally satisfied, we manage to read approximately 2 pages of Green Eggs and Ham before there are more questions about other important matters. Like, “Why doesn’t he bring the plate of food on the first page of the book?” We’re at that age when the word ‘why’ is constant, and when the commentaries and questions about the book are wordier than the words on the page, even in a big girl book like this. I try to remember, despite my sleepiness, that this part is more important than the words on the page, anyway.

One of my favorite things about both my kids is that they are voracious and unconventional eaters (considering the standard idea that kids don’t like anything interesting or healthy). I love the game Conan invented with Lucia for when she proclaims that she doesn’t want something on her plate. He says something like, “But you don’t want this bite? This one’s chocolate flavor.” Then she starts asking, “What about this bite? What’s this flavor?” And before you know it she’s eaten all of what she supposedly didn’t like today, and might be asking for more. The best part (for me) is that  sometimes I make up flavors that aren’t even “exciting” and we still get excited about it. I’m like, “Oh, this is hummus and carrot flavor!” and she’s like, “Mmm, hummus with carrot!” (Bwahahaha, the Mean Mommy wins again.) She told me one day that sometimes she doesn’t eat all her lunch at school because her teacher doesn’t tell her what kind of flavor her food is! I adore four year old logic, when it’s not making me tear my hair out in frustration.

Lucia, below, pretending to eat raw nopal… She is such a silly, outrageous, kind, creative, expressive little monster.

 

 

Part of the bonus of raising kids in my adopted country is getting to take these trips back to visit. I can think things like, “Oh my goodness, a year ago, Khalil hadn’t even tried food! And now he won’t eat if he can’t hold the spoon himself.”  It’s such a good chance to remember, compare, and reflect. And this has been a good excuse to write a little about these two bright, bright lights in my life.

I’ll leave the re-introduction at that for now. See you soon, Louisville folks!