Our needs versus wants.
Not always easy to tell.
Culture has its sway.
But You and I Know.
How our hearts ache to be whole.
It IS who we ARE.
Our needs versus wants.
Not always easy to tell.
Culture has its sway.
But You and I Know.
How our hearts ache to be whole.
It IS who we ARE.
Do you know the James Taylor song “Mexico”?
You can look it up on You-Tube if you have not heard it in a while. I looked it up recently because I could not remember all the lyrics.
I don’t like the line about “sleepy señorita” with eyes on fire. That feeds into a cultural stereotype that rings dissonant and untrue to all the non-sleepy Mexicanas I know, that work harder than 99% of the Americanos I know. But other than that, Taylor’s song is a dreamy fantasy on his idea of what Mexico must be like:
Woh, down in Mexico, I’ve never really been so I don’t really know.
Woh, Mexico, I guess I’ll have to go.
Next week I will travel to Mexico to interview some clinical research specialist candidates for an open position on my team. I always enjoy visiting, even though I prefer the country-side and the beach to the big city. I feel at home in Mexico in a way, even though my skin is lighter than most people (thanks to my Swedish grandmother) and I am also taller than most people there, at nearly 5’8″.
I guess you could say I have a romance with Mexico. It makes sense. Half of my blood ancestry is from there, and when I speak Spanish, it is with the same accent as my Dad, from whence my language skills arose as a young child. When I speak with my colleagues in Latin America, sometimes they ask me where I am from. I am sure they are thinking: “Her accent sounds authentic, but her grammar sucks! Where the heck did she learn her Spanish?”
Well, perhaps they judge me less harshly than I judge myself. But since it takes me about 48 hours down there to “flip on” the Spanish module in my brain, my grammar usually takes a little while to catch up with my communication intentions. My “lengua materna” – my “mother tongue” is English. Typically for children our mother tongue is our primary language, our base from which other languages can grow, if we speak more than one.
Early in my childhood, I visited Mexico. When I was 1, 3 and 7 we visited during the summers (my parents were teachers). I was “mariposa” and “reinecita” to my grandparents there, butterfly and little queen. Early photographs of me with them show their pride in me. They loved how I looked at my wrist as though there was a watch when people asked me “qué hora son?” (what’s the time?) even before I could really speak. They knew I understood.
When I was 7 years old, my Dad his lost his Mom to cancer (the same year my Mom lost her Father to cancer) and after that, he did not have the heart to visit his home town of Saltillo again for decades. Dad is not fond of airplanes, and he prefers to drive down. I flew down in 2014 to meet him there, while he drove the long journey after a stop in Texas to visit with his sister and her family.
I spent about a week there, and I was fascinated to discover how musically talented my family is, and how beautifully they sing and play the guitar together. My Dad has been a musician for much of his life, playing on weekends and during the summer as a “side gig” even though his main profession was as a bilingual teacher. I wrote before about how my Mom first met him when she studied in Mexico after graduating from college in less than 4 years to teach Spanish.
I called Mom from Mexico during that trip, while I was staying in the duplex where my four of my aunties live. Two of my aunties are nuns, one of them is a widow and one is married with two beautiful children. Mom asked me if now I knew why she fell in love with Dad and his whole family. Indeed I did. They are lovely people, and their hospitality was amazing. I connected with aunts, uncles and cousins I had not known before. Some of us also connected on social media and still stay in touch that way.
Returning to my roots and knowing them better helped me know myself better. I have always been more connected to Minnesota and my Mom’s family. As I keep returning to Mexico periodically for work or vacations, I continue to experience a sense of re-connection within myself. I was born in Wisconsin, and identify myself now as a Minnesotan, having lived more than half my life here if you count summers in my youth.
Yet Mexico continues to call to me, a siren song that enters my consciousness when I consider leaving my current job. I try to imagine what other kind of work would allow me to keep visiting there regularly. This is a kernel I need to keep in mind as I consider my alternatives.
I love exploring many countries, cultures and places. This is one aspect that keeps me in my current position, these precious international travel benefits. But I am especially interested in cultures that speak Spanish, since this is a part of my origin and ancestry as well. My husband and I have plans someday to honeymoon in Europe, but we are saving up for this. I do not like to go into debt now that I am in my 40’s. My husband has always wanted to visit the U.K., as have I (my grandfather on my mother’s side is from Cornwall). I also want to explore the Spanish countryside. Someday perhaps I will get to Sweden to see where my great-grandmother was born.
But a big part of my heart is in Mexico, and will never leave there. My feminist grounding tells me my role in empowering women (and men) I work with currently is a an important investment of my time. Then I consider other ways I can contribute to the country of my ancestors, while bridging the gap in understanding among the people I know here in Minnesota.
I am still figuring out what the next step on the path will look like for me. And some part of me tells me it will not be a well-worn path, but rather one in which I will need to bring a hatchet or some clearing tools to get through dense vegetation. It may need creativity and a clearer vision of what is possible.
I have been consulting mentors, teachers, peers and wise leaders on advice and thoughts about how to think about my future vocation. But ultimately, I will need to enter into the quiet wilderness of my soul to discover what she means to me, this Mexico that calls to me both in sleeping and waking hours.
The time draws near for that infamous anniversary, when we realized that all the pundits and many of the news networks were wrong, and that a seemingly impossible result could in fact happen. I remember being worried, very worried last year at this time, and checking the Five Thirty Eight blog rather obsessively. I remember wondering, as I door-knocked neighborhoods in St. Paul to remind voters to get out to the polls on election day, whether we were in for a long and troubled time.
It seemed impossible to me that someone with no political experience, not even minor political office could end up running the country’s executive office. But my conversations with people, even lifelong democrats on my likely voter list, was not convincing me that Hillary could win. I had done some sporadic volunteering on her campaign during the summer and fall before the election, and I was not getting the kind of reception I had received in other campaigns. I was worried about all the millennials that told me they were not sure they would vote, that they thought Bernie Sanders had been dealt a raw deal by the Democrats.
Surely they did not believe that staying home and allowing the Republican nominee to win was preferable to having a seasoned and competent leader in the role? It baffled me, how little the sexism and racism that fell from The Donald’s mouth could be ignored. But I was also bothered by Hillary’s characterization of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Clearly not all of the people who were voting “against” her were sexist, racist bigots. It was not until after the election, when I read JD Vance’ book Hillbilly Elegy, when I began to understand what the Democrats (my own party) had missed.
There is a lot of pain in “middle America” and in vast swaths of our country. The recession and financial crisis of 2008-2009, precipitated by years of financial deregulation, dramatic breakdowns of corporate governance and excessive borrowing by households and Wall Street had devastating impacts on people and families. But even before that, several decades of decline in union membership and power, decreases in real wages for working families, and other changes in the stability and security of families has led to anxiety and apprehension about the future.
While I was shocked on election night and the next day, I was also somewhat prepared for what might happen. The result felt particularly bitter to me because I am half Mexican. Trump kicked his campaign off by insulting Mexicans. I will not spend time repeating his words, which were clearly spoken to incite people and their emotions. What I do want to contribute is a perspective that is somewhat unique in that I was born here in this country, to a Mexican father and a mother from Minnesota. I grew up in southern Wisconsin, after my parents moved us when I was two years old from small town in northern Wisconsin that had an active KKK chapter.
My parents needed to find a place where they felt safe, and fortunately my Dad was able to find a job teaching bilingual students in a small town that had a number of migrant workers. I was fortunate to grow up in a small town where we were safe. Though my Dad and various members of my family endured some episodes of racism, as a respected teacher and upstanding member of the community, he demonstrated strength and courage to me. My Mom was a pillar of the community as well. While my sister and I were young, she stayed home with us, and she was a “mother” to our whole neighborhood in a way. Many of the children had both parents working outside the home, out of necessity. Mom sat out on the back porch to watch us play, and by extension she watched over the whole neighborhood.
Many families today do not have the stability and connection that we enjoyed while growing up. While my family had to make certain sacrifices to raise us with only one income, I was never hungry and I never went without basic necessities. My parents were kind to one another. Even though they argued sometimes, as normal adults do, in the course of their relationship, we did not witness violence in our family. I grew up feeling like I was meant to be here, that I had an important place in this world, whether or not I fit into various social groups or cliques at school. My parents instilled in me a sense of belonging.
There were a number of Mexican families in our school district, as well as Puerto Rican families and others who worked on local farms and in local factories. I never felt quite like one of “them” nor did I feel like one of the white kids, exactly. Since my skin color can be described as more like my Swedish grandmother than my Mexican Indian grandfather, to my chagrin, I am paler than I want to be. In those days, and even today, it means that I often “pass” as white. Usually, until people learn my last name, they have no particular suspicion that I am Mexicana. I have no accent, having been born here and learned English as my first language, though Spanish without accent as a close second language when I was young.
This gives me a strange amount of privilege because, while I cannot claim to speak up for Mexicans, being a daughter of one means it is a part of my identity. But I am white, so when people talk about identifying as a “person of color” I feel somewhat like a fraud in that regard. Granted, I am who I am, and being multicultural is a source of pride rather than shame. In that vein, when I considered what to do as a result of the 2016 election, I realized I needed to reach deeply inward, and then begin to write and share my experiences. I feel an obligation to speak, to write, to use my voice to help others enter into important conversations about class, culture and race. Those of us with privilege must deeply support those who do not have their share of these same freedoms that allow me to do this.
I have deep empathy for those who cannot use their voice, for those who must live in the “shadows” of this great country. Some, through no fault of their own, were born here but are undocumented. Many came from other countries to build better lives for their families and to have hope for future generations to be educated and free to choose their paths and their identities. This is the great hope of what America means, in my view.
Granted, if I were a white person in rural America, facing joblessness, a broken family, a hopeless situation about the future, I would have a different perspective. Those brown people that do not speak my language are starting to move into “my” town in greater numbers! They don’t even speak English, for god’s sake! I can see how threatening this might seem, especially when the future is uncertain for everyone, and we are given messages of “fear” all around us in our media. I have deep empathy for this fear, for this state of feeling not valued.
Every human being on this planet is worthy of love and forgiveness. I believe this deep in my bones. In fact every living being belongs here. Being “mexi minnesotana” is an evolution for me. Understanding myself, my true identity and fully claiming ownership of that has not always been easy. It can sometimes be exhausting, in fact. I am a minority within a minority. But now, even more than ever, we need voices to come forward in our community that could not be heard before. We need to establish Tribes based on commonly held values rather than just ethnicity or gender, or even political affiliation.
So this brings me to the original reason I started this blog. I often write about my personal journey to health and wellness, though I originally intended to focus on politics and privilege. But a focus on wellness is one I believe everyone needs, to focus on their own wellness and wholeness, before serving others (or simultaneously if possible). This helps us gather strength for the long road ahead, for the “battles” we have to fight but also the conversations that will help knit back together the fractured communities in which many of us live. We must do this, the world depends on us to speak our truths, to be our authentic selves. It is vulnerable and sometimes scary, and it is what is demanded of these times.
I thank you for reading, and appreciate all of the wonderful bloggers out there who I read more and more. You are moving the world and human consciousness in a brave new way. Thanks for allowing me to be part of this conversation.