Lessons from Cross-Cultural Marriage: Entrepreneurial Spirit

A friend once said to me that all marriages are cross-cultural.  And there is certainly some truth to that statement.  The journey of marriages raises all kinds of questions like, “What do you mean you’re unfamiliar with a family songbook?”

Recently, I have been giving some thought to lessons I have learned specifically because I married a Latino immigrant.  I have written in the past about greeting others and kissing them on the cheek, but I decided to consider other ideas and begin a short series over the next few Thursdays. 

I will note that it’s certainly possible that a person could learn these lessons outside of a cross-cultural marriage, but my experience frames these traits within that context.
Lesson 1: An Entrepreneurial Spirit.

I am a relatively practical person and like to thoroughly think things through.  I’m not necessarily a risk-taker like one of those people who drives without headlights at dusk…  

However, in the four years of my marriage, Billy and I have made multiple attempts to start businesses or launch projects.  At this point, most all of them would not be what the average person might consider “successful,” but don’t worry… we have many more ideas in the works!

The city of Dayton, Ohio recently documented that immigrants are twice as likely as others to start new businesses in communities.  It’s one of the reasons this city is reaching out to immigrants with hopes of spurring their local economy. 

Putting my personal experience in the context of a larger picture, I easily recognize that Billy has carried an entrepreneurial spirit into our life together.  Before we met, he had owned and operated a taco cart, started a business creating personalized merchandise for other businesses, and organized a touring hardcore Spanish Christian rock band (narrow genre = faithful following). 

In fact, something I heard at the recent G92 Immigration Conference asserted that people who migrate are self-selecting.  In other words, it takes a certain kind of risk-taker and challenge-embracer to actually take the step to relocate to another country.  It very well may be one of the reasons why these same individuals are so likely to start businesses.

I deeply appreciate the city of Dayton’s creative and innovative approach around the issues of immigration.  In a time when many states are choosing to criminalize immigrants, it makes a lot of sense to me that others might ask, “How can we engage the strengths of those traveling here to improve our society for all?”

In our family, it means you can be on the lookout for the next new business plan over breakfast!

For the next post in this series, click on!

Dreaming the DREAM Act

You may have heard of the DREAM Act.

This past weekend I attended the G92 Immigration Conference at Cedarville University in Ohio and heard from several “Dreamers.”  I thought I knew what the DREAM Act was before I listened to their stories. 

They were four amazing young people from around the country.  All of them were college graduates.  All spoke perfect English and were raised in the US.  And all of them were illegally brought to the States by their parents when they were children.

I had thought that the DREAM Act was a way for undocumented students to be allowed access to federal aid for college.  It turned out I was wrong and it is actually much more and much less than that.

I say it is much less because it doesn’t provide any access to aid for undocumented students desiring to go to college.  Students still have to pay for their school with private scholarships or personal funding, and in some cases, are required to pay out-of-state tuition in the state in which they’ve lived most of their life.

However, it is much more because it opens up a path to legalization for theses students that isn’t currently available to them in any way.  One of the Dreamers explained that the Act has several prerequisites:

1. They must have come to the States before the age of 15 and lived here 5 consecutive years.
2. They must have graduated from a US High School or obtained a GED from a US institution.
3. They must have “good, moral character.” (This qualification seems to be somewhat ambiguous and fluid from what I’ve read, but is being generally interpreted as no criminal history.)
4. They must attend 2 years of college or serve 2 years in the military.

The DREAM Act would then qualify them to obtain probationary status, which they maintain for 10 years before becoming legal permanent residents.  After that, they must wait another 5 years before they can apply for citizenship, which includes voting privileges. 

Personally, I don’t completely agree with all of the qualifications or the 15 year wait to be able to vote, but I am thrilled at the opportunity this legislation could open up for some young adults who are hanging onto this DREAM Act with all their hope for the future.

The young lady who shared at the conference expressed that she has lived in the States since the age of 6 and has a college degree in Social Work, but is unable to get a job because her of her status.  This breaks my heart deeply.  

Regardless how you feel about the choices parents have made, these are children of America who want to contribute to society in legitimate ways.  As you feel led, please let your Senators and Representatives know that you care about the DREAM Act.  We are moving into another polarized, radical, people-ignoring year of political ridiculousness.  Please let your politicians know that this is an important piece of legislation. 

P.S. You can go to votesmart.org to find out who represents you in your area.   
P.S.S. As with all things immigration, some states, such as Illinois and California, have passed their own DREAM Acts, which open some doors for Dreamers, but still cannot offer legal permanent residence.

How to Buy Fruit Without Going to Jail

One of the things I miss most about Los Angeles is mobile food. 

A hot burrito served out of the side of a truck in a 2-hour limited parking space.  The divine scent of grilling hot dogs wrapped in bacon as you walk by the park. 

And my favorite… the fruit cart. 

A rainbow-colored umbrella and ripe, delicious watermelon, mango, coconut, and pineapple.  Who could ask for more?  What I wouldn’t give for one of these street vendors in South Atlanta on a hot day. 

In my neighborhood in LA, the cart nearest our apartment was staffed by Spanish-speakers.  So one day as Billy and I were heading their way with focused purpose, I announced that I was going to order in Spanish. 

I had tried this once before while alone.  Things began to get convoluted when my order was complete and the vendor wanted to squeeze lime juice and sprinkle salt on my bag of fruit.  When I kept saying, “No, thank you,” he became more animated in his gestures and descriptions of these additions.  Finally, I had to express something to the affect of, “I understand you, but no thank you.”  Yeah, that’s pretty much how I speak in Spanish… awkward and blunt… well, sometimes in English, too.

So with renewed enthusiasm to flex my bilingual muscles, I walked up to the cart and ordered sandia, piña, coca…  It was the coconut request that caused the fruit seller’s eyes to widen and my husband to start shouting, “No, no, no,” which I can translate into English, so I knew there was a problem.

Turns out coconut is coco and coca is coke which, similar to English, is slang for cocaine.  When you ask someone on the street… in South Central LA… for coke… it could lead you to unexpected places. 

It was probably a good six months before I tried to speak Spanish again.  I mean, it’s one thing to be blunt and awkward… it’s another thing to get arrested. 

My experience, as with my past second language encounter that got me in trouble, turns my heart towards my immigrant friends.  I have my own personal translator who can shout “no” before things get out of hand.  But this has happened to me at least twice (and I’m sure as I keep writing about the past and living the present, more will emerge), and I can’t help but wonder how often this happens to Spanish speakers who try to speak English and say something they don’t mean? 

What about you?  Have you made potentially disastrous, or at least amusing, mistakes when speaking your second language?     

Sticks and Stones and Words Can Hurt Me

Every time I write a blog post about my husband Billy, I get his approval before I share it online.   

Whether it’s amusing anecdotes about how Spanish and English mix up in our marriage or a recent opportunity to share a guest blog about his immigration experience outside this site… I always ask.

I ask because I would hate to embarrass him, offend him, or represent him in a way he would not choose to represent himself.  Our relationship is more important than any story.

Bob Lupton, a veteran Atlanta urban minister, just released a book called Toxic CharityIt’s a powerful challenge that sheds light on traditional charity activities that often unintentionally harm the very communities and people that they hope to help.

One area he draws attention to is the way ministries represent their neighbors and friends.  Often we tell of personal details… victimization, poor choices, tragedies… that our friends would not typically use to introduce themselves. 

We rarely ask the youth we mentor, the English language learners we tutor, or our community neighbors and partners to read our newsletters, our books, or our blogs.  We should.

It’s been a challenge to me to be reminded to think this way because I love to tell the stories.  I’ve always joked that I have no stories of my own… I just share other people's lives.  But the relationships are more important than any story… even if it’s a really powerful one.

The dignity of the people we share life with in our communities must be respected. 

Why I Don't Speak Spanish

Well, I mostly blame God.

There I was… a nerdy 8th grader praying fervently about an important decision in my life.  Should I sign up to take French or Spanish?  Most of my friends were taking Spanish because… well… it was smart and practical.  For some reason, I felt inexplicably drawn to French. 

So I was praying.  I pretty much knew my future hung in the balance and if I was irrationally leaning towards French, God must have a plan.

So I jumped in.  8th grade… high school… college… I learned French.  And I have spent the rest of my life trying to forget it. 

It was in the middle of college that I began to realize that a good percentage of my closest friends spoke Spanish as their first language.  I would sit at the table in the cafeteria, pick out various words I recognized, and make up my own entire conversations around these stray nouns.  Fun? Yes. Real? No. 

I can say that there are many similarities between French and Spanish, which have aided me in my quest to learn Spanish.  But as I sat in a wooden chair during Spanish language school in Xela, Guatemala guessing pomme  for every piece of fruit until a picture of an apple was finally shown and I practically shouted it with smug satisfaction and was still wrong…. did I truly feel that it has been less than helpful.

But I absolutely LOVE language… it began with an obsession with English that still continues.  In fact, I once made an announcement that I would never date someone with English as a second language because I needed word jokes and nuisances were too important to me. 

As with most sweeping statements I make, God laughs as He brings them around to bite me.  So He introduced me to a super smart bilingual guy who can make word jokes in two languages, leaving me scrambling to keep up.

So I enjoy my “late-in-life-according-to-bilingual-recommendations” challenge.  And it’s fun to try to learn language alongside my daughter.  Right now, we are watching Sid, El Niño Scientifico, and the repetition and juvenile target audience help me to learn new words and have Spanish songs dancing through my head all day.  I still nurse wild fears about her bilingualism and that she will one day weave Spanglish word jokes with speed and accuracy that will wow and terrify her papa and me as we both scramble to keep up. 

But, you know, there’s a lot worse things a 3-year old could do….

Did you take a language in high school or college?  Has it been useful?  Do you wish you’d taken something different? 

Photo credit: Dog Madic

Baby Bottles and Conference Calls

Tuesday I stayed home with my daughter all day.  We walked to the bank and the coffee shop.  We watched Gilmore Girls.  I chased her around the room while she squealed with glee.  We ate shredded cheese and danced to the Black Eyed Peas.  It was a GOOD day.  And I loved it.

Yesterday I went to work.  I crossed items off my to-do list and embarked on Day 1 of the Catalyst Conference.  I engaged in good, funny conversations with my boss.  I met amazing and creative Christian leaders.  I learned about organizations and the inspiring work being done across the country and the globe.  It was a GOOD day.  And I loved it.

I suppose I am what they call a “working mom.”  And sometimes I feel tension in holding dual roles. 

I worry that I’ll miss my daughter’s life, that she'll barely recognize me two weeks from now.  Or I fear that I will not be able to fully focus and create at my job.  But I also can’t imagine life any other way because I enjoy the fullness of each role so much. 

So I continue pursuing both, hoping that my family life will enhance my work as I find myself laughing more and playing more and becoming less likely to engage in unimportant drama or tangents.  And I hope my family will enjoy the coworkers and friends my work brings into our lives and that the joy I gain from diving into projects will spill into my home. 

So, for today, I’m spoon-feeding yogurt in the morning, texting the babysitter during a workshop, and coming home late after a day of introductions and conversations.  And, for today, I feel quite content. 

How do you balance work and ministry and family?  What are your fears?  What do you feel your work life adds to your family life and vice versa? 

Forbidden Fruits: 4 Toys You’ve Gotta Taste

Star-shaped teethers.  A yellow, plastic hammer.  Soft, stacking blocks with brightly colored illustrations.  A spunky caterpillar with multi-textured sections.  Forget it.  Your child (read: my child) doesn’t want to play with these things. 

That’s why I’ve created “Forbidden Fruits,” a new toy line for the crawler in your life.  Using a focus group of one, I have watched and learned what a child really wants to tinker with during playtime.

Bland Square with Cord Extension
I often wondered how my nine-month old could survive on a one hour nap during a full day.  Recently, I discovered her secret when I found her amping up for the day sucking on the end of a phone charger.  This experience inspired my “Bland Square with Cord Extension” product.  While you might think bright colors and squeakers are the way to go for babies, you’ve simply drunk the Fisher Price kool-aid.  Your little crawler will seek out this cord-based toy with its dark coloring and lack of noises or moving shapes over and over again.  It’s classic.

The Silver Bowl

You may not want her to grow up with a silver spoon in her mouth, but what about a silver bowl in her hand?  The best teachers in life come alongside us, and from her angle, Fido is the only other one on all fours.  So if the dog loves the bowl, it must be worth looking into... and maybe touching… and eventually, I imagine, licking.  

From the moment her knees hit the ground in the morning, you’ll find her pounding towards The Silver Bowl, eager to run her hands along the authentic, dried drool.  For a fun game, race her to it for the parental classic “swoop in and snatch.”  This challenge increases baby brain function as enthusiasm builds and her memory development will bring her crawling furiously back tomorrow. 
My First Slow Cooker Cookbook

Board books are for babies.  Introduce your tot to a collection of recipes bound with plastic.  Originally for adults, these former wedding presents now make the perfect baby shower gift.  Paper pages allow for crinkling or tearing, which, let’s face it, never gets old.  And with enough commitment and fine motor skill dexterity, the plastic binding spine can be disassembled to create small curls.  (They fit easily between your lips for transport while crawling.)

Gear Girl Gift Kit  

Sometimes a kid likes to get her hands dirty.  And what better way to do that than to work on bikes?  It’s rare to find a bike mechanic who takes the time to touch and feel each gear anymore… you know, really work the grease between her fingers.  And when’s the last time one bothered to get on hands and knees and really get an eye in there?  This kit will help your baby learn how to do all that and more.  Safety tips are included to prevent pulling up on a bike… which will most likely lead to disaster.

Forbidden Fruits… there’s something about “no” that makes you wanna say “yes”

If you’re a parent or have ever babysat, you’ve got products that should join our line.  C’mon now… what are they? 
A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.