Así No Más

Today we wrap up Hispanic Heritage Month. America is sort of strange about these things. We celebrate diversity even while not being sure whether we agree if diversity or a melting pot works best.

I watched two documentaries on Latinos this month. One was The Latino List on HBO which interviewed some very interesting world changing Latinos. Here are a few of them and what they said that made me smile and take notice at their wisdom and understanding of a culture to whom I belong, and yet, don’t! It’s complicated.

Julie Stav is a woman who is a financial advisor. She’s funny, smart and has her own show on Univision. Here is what she has to say to the average Latino:

You learn how to work for a good company. I wanted to own the good company. 

 I was doing investment clubs and I would take a $100 bill and pass it around and I would ask what does this mean to you? I heard every synonym of the word freedom, like options, choices. 

 Being Latino brings a lot of myths especially around money. That money is corruption. That money is for men. That it’s enough just to work. It’s not enough just to work. We didn’t come here to watch novellas, they’re great, we didn’t come here to listen to music or to watch sports. Why did we come to this country? We came here for money. There’s more Latinos in the United States than Canadians in Canada and the day we learn how this money system works is the day we get up and start taking credit for all the long hours that have put in. 

There’s a great Latina making a difference. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Consuelo Kickbusch. She is the one for whom the title of this post is dedicated to. Así No Más is a term in Spanish which means “good enough”. The highest ranking Hispanic female in the combat support division of the United States Military she is wise, excels in her field, and loves her country and her people. She is such an inspiration to me!

Of my 10 brothers and sisters 8 of us are veterans. When I took command of my first platoon I realized that a large number of these amazing men, soldiers, did not have a high school diploma. So I went ahead and worked with the education department to bring someone into the barracks. Some of the classes were on Friday night, that doesn’t make you too popular.

When you come out of poverty you tend to want certain things. I wanted a car that actually moved. I thought that was very important. I wanted to live in a house made of bricks because that’s what the little pigs did in the books, and I wanted every credit card that spelled my name right. I thought that was success, you are taking care of yourself and you’re making enough money to take care of your family.  I believe that is what my parents wanted most for me.   I achieved all those things and I was the highest ranking Hispanic woman in combat support, but I felt that why should it only be me?

I’m the daughter of a maid. My mother cleaned toilets. She said, “hija do a job so well done  that even when you’re not there your work will speak for you.” That is what I want out of the children that sit in classrooms today. Do your work , do it to the very best. Graduate with honors, cross that stage. 39 Rodriguez’, 50 Garcias I say fantastic! Let them practice Garcia 50 times during graduation. That is who we are. We don’t settle for that ‘así no más’, that it’s okay anyway. 

Then there is José Hernandez who is Engineer and a Astronaut. He grew up in my neck of the woods. Working hard, he took his father’s word to heart and went for his dream.

When I worked in the fields with the family, we would arrive when it was still dark and the stars would be so clear and so numerous, then the sun would come out and reality would hit and we start working in the fields. My school mates always  loved summer vacations our family kind of dreaded it because we knew it meant we would work seven days a week. At the end of a long day’s work, my dad, right before he put the key in the ignition he would turn around and he would tell us, “How do you kids feel”? We were tired, muddy, sweaty, and he would say, “Good, this is your future if you don’t study in school.” 

Then there was another documentary I saw on HBO called Celebrity Habla.

Finally there is Lisa Quiroz. I related to her. She is a person who believes in service to her community, literacy and education. She is a corporate executive for Time Warner, the founding publisher for People en Español. Her grandmother was a great influence on her, as was mine. Her stories about her grandma made me smile without even realizing I was doing so. This quote was the one that struck me;

I’m brown, I’m half Mexican, I’m half Puerto Rican. I speak Spanish, I speak Spanglish, I speak English but I’m American, and that’s hard sometimes for people to understand.

I was so glad that I was able to see these mighty people and the difference they are making in America and the impact they have on their culture.

A Latina Caught Between Two Worlds

My grandmother was born in El Paso Texas in 1908. Her parents were from Monterrey, Mexico. My mother was born in California in 1941 and so was I in 1965. When I fill out the census I check the box that says Hispanic. When I’m eyeballed by the average American read: Caucasian, Asian or Indian person, they see a Latina chick. No big deal I wear it well and am not ashamed.

However, I’m this breed of American caught between two worlds. I’m sure it happens in other cultures too, but I only know my own experience. I speak a half-way sort of Spanish. I spoke only Spanish until the age of 5 and then I went to school and English became my primary language. I still understand it well. My grandparents spoke Spanish and my parents spoke Spanglish so I grew up hearing both languages. I eat menudo and creme brulee.

Culturally, we were raised as American children who were told stories of the struggle to get to this country and make some headway. “Get an education” my grandfather said, “para no trabajar como burro” (so you won’t work like a donkey). “What college are you going to?”, my parents would ask. My mother was a professional business woman so I saw that as my future. My father cooked dinner when he was home so I saw no set chores for men and women.

Interestingly though, Hispanic immigrants who live in America both legally and illegally see me as American read: Caucasian wannabe. I don’t speak with an accent, I don’t speak Spanish as fluently as others and so therefore, I must be a racist on some level. I suppose this thought is because I don’t know the struggle of an immigrant first hand and because by the third generation immersion in the culture looks quite different.

This thought is further imbedded in their thinking when I say that in order to move forward we must learn the English language. It is the language of this country that I so love with all of my heart. Without the language you are slaves to those who can translate for you and your hope is that they translate correctly. They don’t realize that a racist would keep them in their language and take advantage of them. I don’t relate to a language being a culture, because to me, the culture of many people from all over the world is the life in which I was brought up. My ancestors story is one of many.

When I lived in Europe no one translated for me. I carried a dictionary in my purse and I butchered the language of each country I visited, and made a lot of people laugh, but I managed, and they helped me. I understand the struggle to learn a new language however I also know that when in Rome we speak Italian.

I am further criticized when I say that we must get an education. It’s not enough to occupy space on the planet but we must make it better and we each have much to offer. I don’t believe that there is a set of people born to do menial labor. I believe our ancestors paved the way for something greater and it’s up to us, those second and third generations born of immigrants to do better. To remember where we came from is important but to move forward is imperative. It’s not enough to have arrived in the land of opportunity it’s about now accessing that opportunity to better future generations.

I remember when I was a child and in Mazatlan, Mexico on vacation. The adult I was with spoke only English but she was half-Mexican American and Italian, we were in a store and she asked the price of something. The woman was so rude to her, looking at her in disgust she said with disdain in Spanish, “Look at you, you’re obviously Hispanic. Learn to speak Spanish when you come to my country.” Why the double standard? I was only nine but I remember the hypocrisy well and it is imprinted in my memory.

So, while I am not a racist, I do believe you have an obligation to learn the language of the country you live in. I do believe you have an obligation to seek wisdom and knowledge. I understand the struggle and I understand the obligation I have to do better. While the term racist is thrown in my direction, I don’t receive or accept it. In fact, I think the moment it is thrown at me, it boomerangs back at the accuser who is looking at me with their own heart issues and their own mistrust of this new people they have chosen and decided to merge with, after all we have not been brought here as slaves.

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my life as a American and be proud that I live in a country that is so meshed in each other’s cultures that I can eat Asian tacos and Mexican Lasagna with gusto! This is the reality of my upbringing.

Latinas Listen Up Periodicals.html

I got these statistics from Latina Magazine but you need only to look in our backyard to see that they are being generous when it comes to our city.

51% of Latinas get pregnant at least once before turning 20. It’s twice the national average.

8.26% – Latinas have the highest teen pregnancy rate in America compared to 2.67% of whites.

One-third of 9 to 15 year old Latinas cited pregnancy or marriage as the reason they dropped out of school.

22% of Latino kids ages 16-24 were not in school in 2005 and it’s double the percentage of African Americans at 10.4%. That equals 1.4 million kids.

36.5% of recent immigrants skip school to go to work.

38% of Latinos ages 16-19 work.

34.4% of Latinos who dropped out in 2006 said they dropped out to work.

49% of Latino kids attend the poorest schools and 56% attend the largest schools. These schools offer very little in the way of advanced courses, which makes it hard to get entrance into universities.

45% of schools serving Latino kids have advanced courses and 74% of girls want them.

So what’s up? From my vantage point as a 45 year-old Latina, I see a few problems. One is that there is an inferiority complex in Latino culture and I am not sure where it comes from. We are a proud people so that may be an issue when it comes to getting some information. Ignorance is why people don’t achieve bigger things; they just don’t seek out a better way. Maybe they feel that a menial job is good enough but according to Latina the average high school drop out makes $22,000 a year. That’s below the poverty rate and hardly enough to support a family. Get a married couple making an average of $44,000 combined and while it may look a little more decent in household income that leaves the dilemma of who is at home watching the kids? While other immigrant families come here and within a generation has turned their circumstances around Latinos still have not done so.

The second is expectation. While I see very strict upbringing with a strong emphasis in education in an Asian home or a Middle Eastern home, I do not see that in a Latino home today and have never seen an importance put on education in the average Latino home. Our response to our children’s behavior is to look dumbfounded and throw our hands up in the air. We don’t expect a great deal out of kids. We criticize White America as being too permissive but in some cases we are worse. The emphasis on education simply has to change if we are going to work to change statistics. There has to be an expectation set in your child from the day you bring them home from the hospital. The expectation needs to be not IF you go to college but WHERE will you go. Not IF you will make something of yourself but that you WILL make something of yourself. Not everyone is college bound but every able body person in the world needs a job! Welfare creates slaves and a narrow-mindset. We must overcome obstacles and move forward.

For some Latina girls it’s a mixed message. Go to college, is what the education systems tells us, and make something of yourself but don’t leave your culture and marry outside of your ethnicity is what our culture says. The problem with that is that boys drop out of high school in bigger numbers and the number of men doesn’t even come close to the number of women graduating from college in any ethnicity. So the message is get an education but don’t come back too smart that you won’t be able to find a nice Latino man to marry.

In short, what we need are mentors. We need solid Latinos who will give back to those youth who just lack supervision for the most part. We need to set the example and show them that there is a better way. Yes, it takes time, I mentored a youth who struggled with home strife and gang affiliation and it meant going to speak to her school counselor each week with phone calls to the school in between our meetings. We did get this youth graduated from high school and off to a technical college. It must become the normal thing to graduate from high school and from college. It must be that the first generation of immigrants set the groundwork for success for all future generations and every generation that follows must do better than the last. Our faith as followers of Christ is to follow the example of Jesus. Jesus said that we would do the things he did and greater still. That means, we train up the next generation we are in charge of to do all that we do, and greater still. We have got to look beyond our circumstances and quit looking for government bailout. We can do it by changing our mind and changing our world.

Reading Is Fundamental

Ren Oakenfull
Ren Oakenfull

I read. A lot. Right now I’m reading three books, blogs, twitter, facebook, emails, texts. I have a hunger to learn all that I can. I believe there is wisdom in books. I’m married to a reader and my four kids are readers. We read.

So why did it bother so much when a person in our church said, “You know us Hispanics, we don’t read.” It bothered me on levels I guess. One, is that there is still prejudice in our country. While we may have a half African American president, there are still times like last week when I went into a store whose sales clerks didn’t greet me but greeted the other woman who came in and asked her if she needed help finding anything. Funny how the same clerk looked shocked when I was checking out came and asked, “Was anyone helping you?”, and I replied, “No, everyone was too busy to even greet me, knowing that I was the only person in the store at the time.” It’s not lost on me that these things still happen. So when ignorant blanket statements about Hispanics are made by Hispanics themselves it makes me angry on a certain level.

Two, if in fact we are called to be followers of Christ but profess not to read, then our knowledge of him is limited and based on what we’ve heard rather than what we know. This is a dangerous place to be because you can be fooled into thinking anything. If you don’t know your rights in the kingdom then you can’t exercise them. It becomes a never-ending circle of ignorance.

Three, it excuses you to remain ignorant and on a level lower than you were intended to live. This is not kingdom living. This is merely existence on the planet. Reading is a gift that many were not given. There are people who would love to know how to read. You are throwing the gift of reading away as a casual thing. Reading can change your life.

So let’s stop bragging about how we hate to read and begin to access the gift of reading and get out of the self-imposed pit of ignorance.