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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

CNN Heroes 2012

I learned today about the 10 CNN Heroes finalists.  One of my Colombian groups was advertising the name of one finalist since she is Colombian.  Her name is Catalina Escobar and she is helping young single mothers and their kids in the most depressed areas around the city of Cartagena, Colombia.

When I first read this story, I really felt compelled to do something. So this post is my way of spreading the word.  This real life hero is from my native Colombia. With courage and determination, she is leading a crusade to help children in need around Cartagena.  As a mom, that speaks to my heart.

Mr. G and I had our Colombian honeymoon (Yes, we also had an American one because we like to be fair and inclusive like that) in Cartagena back in 2006. The beauty of the place is undeniably breathtaking, and its storied history is enthralling and thought-provoking. It is equally astonishing that, in a city with world-class hotels, casinos, and stores, you can find yourself face to face with crushing poverty.

Being a tourist destination hasn't helped Cartagena much. In fact, it has made matters worse in many respects. Prostitution is rampant (Remember news earlier this year stemming from President Obama's visit), and the rate of teenage pregnancy is among the highest in the country.

I found the story about Catalina Escobar's work and her foundation very inspiring. But, in all honesty and fairness, every single one of the 10 finalist has a wonderful tale full of compassion, selflessness, persistence, and love for our fellow humans in need.

Why don't you go here and cast your vote?  Read the finalists' stories.  Be inspired, be humbled, and be amazed like I was. In the view of our past presidential election, it occurs to me that we need less politicians and more men and woman like these. Can I just have that for Christmas?

Friday, November 2, 2012

The World in Brown and Blond

There has never been any doubt in my mind that one of the values I want to stress upon my son is looking beyond social labels. I want him to look at people as people. And I really really want to delay the time when he has to face preconceived notions about different social groups.
I also make race a non-issue in our daily life. Just not important or worth mentioning.

A few months ago my little one surprised me when He said: "Mom, I am blond , but Adam* at school is Brown". It caught me off guard. And here is the conversation that followed:

Me: " Yes he is. He has a different skin color, because God loves colors. He created the rainbow, and all the flowers, and He gives humans different colors, because He loves to see a rainbow of people when He looks down from heaven."

S: " Yeah, You are blond too. But you have brown eyes. And Daddy and me are blond and we both have Blue eyes"

Me:" Really? I like to think of me as a little blond and a little brown. I think I have both colors mixed in me." ( I then showed him my arm next to his)

S: "No Mom. You are blond with black hair and brown eyes. I don't have blond color here in these crayons. So I'm going to draw you orange"

Me: "That sounds good. I think orange would be good for me. I don't have to be blond."

Well, obviously for him his friend at school is brown as Lightning McQueen is Red and Thomas the Train is blue. He is just trying to describe his world the best he can and he looks for differences. But the exchange got me thinking. It came to show me that ignoring certain issues can be just as damaging. This child has never been told at home that people come in different colors, yet he notices the variations. Maybe I should have a strategy to address racial differences in a positive way. Because if I don't I'm sure there will be plenty of people and situations out there giving my child the wrong messages.

This morning Sam told me he wanted to invite his favorite friends from school home and asked me to try to contact their parents to set a play date. He said he wanted to invite Ellie, Adam and Ben*. And he added: "Adam has different skin than mine, but we are good friends". I said: "Of course honey! We choose friends for how well we play with them. Not for their skin color"

I hope he is getting the message. I know he will ultimately get it first and foremost by the way I act and react to people and situations.

How do you have (or not) the race conversation at home? What do you tell your kids about it? At what age did they start asking or noticing racial differences?

* I changed the kids names, since their parents don't know about them being mentioned in this blog.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tales of Cultural Acceptance

I am musically challenged and consider that fact one of my greatest weaknesses. I don't have a good ear, never learned to play an instrument and let's not even talk about my rhythm and coordination. Because of that reason I truly admire those that have musical talent. It blows me away to see someone play an instrument or read music. Oh, how I wish I could do something like that! I enjoy music so much I believe that if I could fully understand it I would be madly in love with it.
For that reason I absolutely adore musicals.  Not only do they have music that I enjoy so much but they also have a theatrical component. One of my favorite musicals of all time is West Side Story. I love the story and the way it is played out. I can actually relate to the character of Maria, overlooking her own family and social prejudices and falling in love with the amazing person she has discovered beyond all that.
My favorite song out of West Side Story is America. Every time I hear it I feel like getting out of my chair and shaking my hips.  Also, the lyrics always make me think of my particular situation as an immigrant.

In the song the character Rosalia sings:

Puerto Rico..
You lovely island...
Island of tropical breezes.
Always the pineapples growing.
Always the coffe blossoms blowing...

And then the character Anita replies mockingly:

Puerto Rico...
You ugly island...
Island of tropic diseases.
Always the hurricanes blowing,
Always the population growing...
And the money owing,
And the babies crying,
And the bullets flying.
I like the island Manhattan-
Smoke on your pipe and put that in!

The author couldn't have captured the struggle of moving to a different country with a different culture any better. I can totally understand both Anita's and Rosalia's points of views. You are always in between. No matter what you do, you will never be from here or there anymore. That's the trick! You have to accept both cultures as they are, or you could go insane from having no real sense of your own identity. Because your identity is now mixed and the sooner you embrace that concept the sooner you will start discovering the wonders of having that mix within you.

Going back to the song I think Rosalia as homesick as she is can't remember any fault in her native country. While Anita being all "American" now only remembers the bad and inconvenient parts of the culture she has left behind. In a sense she feels she has traded an "inferior" culture for a "better" one. And that little point right there makes all the difference. When you realize that any culture has its positives and negatives then you are ready to respect, accept, and enjoy any culture.

Take it from me, the process of assimilating into a foreign culture is one of the hardest things I have done in my life! It was very hard to leave everything I knew behind for the promise of a life that might or might not have worked out for me. It was a complicated grieving process. I know that sounds dramatic, but it really is. With time, you do assimilate into your new culture and  your new life. And the new "remixed" you is always better. You always come out winning because in the process you stop taking your own culture for granted. You see it under a new light. And you realize the more you accept your new culture the wider your view of life in general. It's like gaining a whole new set of tools to help you.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

What Makes a Great Family Vacation?

We are back from our week-long Utah vacation. I am totally wiped out but also happy as can be! It was great!!

Now, I have to admit that I suffer Vacation ObsessiveCompulsive Disorder. And I am far from being cured . . . not even in remission or stable. I plan our family vacations with intensity and tenacity. When on vacation I wake up early every day and I'm ready to go (in contrast to the normal me who stays in bed as long as possible and is not fully awake until noon).

This vacation was long awaited for our entire clan. We were so excited about it. And, for me, it marked a first in this particular dream I have for our family: I would like us to visit as many National Parks as possible together. So, with all that said, the expectations were high. And I have to say Utah lived up to our expectations and beyond.

First, the National Parks!!! Oh, the beautiful, untouched, wild, conserved National Parks!! We visited Arches NP and Zion NP. To be able to experience nature's beauty first hand was just the beginning. We also learned so much in our visit. It was like a hands-on Geography, Geology and Biology lesson for our little boy. To hear him talk about the "cryptobiotic crust" and look for it in the rocks was simply music to my ears.

Then, there was the hiking along the different trails. I felt as in an "Amazing Race" type game. We would walk along a trail, sometimes with difficulty, but, at the end, we would find our prize. Our amazing prize: a pool in the middle of a rocky mountain, a beautiful arch formation, or an unexpected animal friend. The hours of hiking were always rewarded.


We did several easy trails, but we also tried some pretty difficult ones. And I have to say our little man faced the challenge like a pro. I felt so proud to see him persevere and walk along with us while enjoying both the view and his achievement.

I was also able to complete a half marathon in Moab, Utah.  Coincidentally, I have this personal dream of finishing a half marathon in as many states as I can. And I was absolutely amazed by the fact that I was running in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, right along the Colorado River. Coolest place I've run so far!

Now with our vacation behind us, I feel we have grown as a family. We not only walked and spent time together, but we also worked together, learned together, and enjoyed each other's company with no other distractions than the beautiful landscape and nature around us.

Husband and I had discussed taking the boy to Cars Land at Disneyland next year. After our first National Park experience, we have officially put that idea behind us. Yeah, you can't do it all. But that's OK. Because I personally think the lessons learned in our recent adventure can't be taught at any theme park. Because I know now that what makes a great family vacation is not the OCD type planning or the crazy schedule to try to see as many places as possible.  What makes a great family vacation is being able to take some time away from everything to remember who are the most important people in your life, to enjoy them, and to be fulfilled by their enjoyment. In the most amazing family vacation you look into each others eyes and give thanks together for your many blessings.

I am happy to report that the whole family is now on board with my little NP dream!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

On TV and Other Demons

I hate the show Modern Family. I wish the producers were honest and started calling it "Stereotyped Family". They already have the Latina stereotype, the gay stereotype, the gay couple stereotype and my guess is as the little girl gets older they will have the little Chinese adoptee stereotype. (They may be playing up that stereotype already, but I don't regularly watch the show.)

My dislike for this show started with the very first episode of the very first season. One of the characters says something like, "Well, in Colombia.....," and Ed O' Neill's character snaps, "As you may notice by the absence of donkeys in the streets, we are not in Colombia!" Excuse me? As you may conclude by a Google image search of Bogota--or any other Colombian city fot that matter--donkeys in the streets is not one of the main attractions!

Then there's Sofia Vergara's character, which is, for me, material for a blog post all of its own, but I'll try to limit myself. Her loud, strongly-accented. and extremely sexualized portrayal of a Colombian immigrant is insulting to me in so many different levels.

To top it off, we have the little Colombian kid--the actor is pretty amazing, I will give them that--who wears guayaberas all the time. While my half Colombian boy owns two guayaberas, he doesn't wear them to school every day or when he plays soccer.

I know most people will say it's just a comedy and it's all just "good ol' fun." In fact a lot of my fellow Colombians are just elated that Sofia is making it big in Hollywood. I happen to disagree. As for Latinas making it big in the entertainment business, it just seems to me that their level success is directly proportional to bra size. Even Salma Hallek, who I credit with having a good brain inside her head, didn't start getting rolls until she apeared in a movie wearing dassy dukes and a bare navel shirt. She was referred to by one of the other characters as "the one with the body."

Furthermore, I really shouldn't expect ABC to bring me culturally enriching entertainment. Every ABC show tthat has a good plot, is well written,or has well developed characters flops before the end of its first season. Meanwhile, the bachelor will be running its 17th season.

At home my husband and I joke that TV networks just need to come to our house and show us their pilots. If we absolutely love the show, its going to be an epic failure rating-wise. But if we hate it . . . that will be a syndicated show that will run for seasons without end.

I know it all comes down to the ratings; ultimately what people will enjoy and watch. But seriously America! I'm calling upon your better sense 'cause I know you are better than this. I know you're better than the parade of reality shows the networks want to feed us. I know you have brains. You may enjoy the "good ol' fun" we have in TV these days. You may not think anything of the stereotypes because you know better. Or you may think I'm just exaggerating. But I would like to give some food for thought here with a real life example. A few months ago Sofia Vergara appeared on the cover of Forbes magazine as the best paid Latin TV actress in an issue about how Hispanics are becoming a key demographic group for companies to target with their marketing efforts. Somebody posted a comment (and he was not alone) saying that Hispanics only buy their goods at Mercados, and we can only be sold Budweiser and Doritos. Well, this person may live in a state where his only experience with Hispanics comes through TV; otherwise, he should know better. Who knows. And yes, some of my Hispanic fellows come from rural areas and feel at home at the nearest Mercado. Nothing wrong with that. I happen to enjoy little mercados and their wide variety of goods you can't find anywhere else.

We Latinos come in many different colors and nationalities, and we have multiple subcultures within our culture. So most Americans have very limited experience with that variety. If all you know about a group of people is based on what you see on TV, even if it is on the news, your knowledge is going to be extremely limited and biased. We cannot have our long overdue conversation about culture and race in America if we lack knowledge and a neutral place in which to start.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Learning some words...While having fun

My son is crazy about ABCs, writing, reading and books. I don't know where he got that from. My guess is probably from my Dad who is super-smart, analytical, creative and practically a genius! Off the record, my husband is also very smart and intellectual, in a good way.  But I am 100% sure my wonderful Colombian genes should take the credit for all the positive traits our little one carries!
Since getting my son to speak Spanish has been kind of an up hill battle for me (he understands everything I say, but categorically refuses to speak full sentences), I'm always looking for a way to engage him and make him speak and think in Spanish.

Last weekend we were practicing some writing and he came up with the idea of making our own ABC book (I'm telling you, he is his Abuelito re-loaded). Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to do something fun and productive with him. And this is what we did:

I would write upper and lower case letters and a word that starts with each. Letters on top of the page and words at the bottom. He will then trace over the letters and draw a picture for each word. He really enjoyed this and felt proud of his own creation. He chose mainly animals for the words and even his own name when his initial came up. He was so proud to realize how many words he already knows. Then, I told him that, as we read the full book, we should say the letter, the word and, then, the corresponding Spanish word. He didn't even argue. He felt so accomplished as he went on and said most of the Spanish words. He has even picked his little ABC book as the book he wants to read for bedtime.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Having a Kid Changes Everything

You know when you are pregnant and people - specially those ladies with plenty of unsolicited advice- tell you "Oh! Your life is about to change..." And of course you look at them smile politely and think: "Oh! Like I didn't know that!!! I mean...Look at me, I never thought I would be praying to fit into these size 12 jeans! Life has changed alright!!!" Then you have that baby, go home and realize, "Yes! Life has changed in more ways than you ever thought could be possible!"
And what I mean is, we are all ready for the 2am feedings, the diapers, the spiting, the buggers, the diapers, the lack of sleep, the few extra-pounds that won't budge, and more diapers that motherhood throws our way. But motherhood is a strange animal, a creature with an agenda of its own. I suppose priority #1 in the agenda is "raise this human being to a fulfilling, successful adulthood".  However, with no clear instructions or map, we all embark on a tough journey. Soon enough we begin to question our priorities, reorganize our value charts, and even make some hard choices along the way. All in the good spirit of motherhood and what's best for the little humans we are in charge of.

To me motherhood has come in the form of a little annoying elf -remember Harry Potter's own Dobbie?- that comes every now and then and doesn't let me sleep with questions like: "Do you think what you just did was fair?" "Will he remember that when he is 20 or 30?" "Well, don't you think that could have made a wonderful teachable moment?" Tons of questions about my job as a mom, about me, where I come from and what I would like for my little human.

As an American who is not an American in the full sense of the word, since I was born and raised in a different country and immigrated to this wonderful one later in life, the anawers to these questions can be very philosophical and intricate. Because I, myself, struggle everyday with loving and enjoying our American way of living while being truthful, respectful and accepting of the culture that is woven into every cell of my body and of which I am very proud.
The interactions between the American me, the Colombian me, and the mom me yield some interesting results in terms of the way I view this world and our society. The very stage where my child's life is being played. The experiences he will have, the lessons he will learn, the things he will do in the future will all be determined to a certain extend by the way he and I shape our identities as people who have a different cultural background, and a specific way of looking at our world.  Hopefully we will come out enriched as we share those views with the people we encounter.
My ambition as a mom is for my son to love, be proud of, and deeply respect both cultures and for them to be the keys that open the door to experiencing, learning, and respecting the many other cultures and ways of living that he may encounter throughout his life.  For my son to learn to interact with people based on the richness of their personality and ignoring the labels that society will want to impose on him and them.
And so this blog is born. Welcome to my journey.