You Are Not Alone

A while back, I read this article about how those four words in an email subject line will encourage more people to open it and read. We are drawn to the phrase. You are not alone.
Today Billy and I were able to share a workshop on multicultural family at the CCDA conference. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear from cross-cultural couples married longer than us, talk with a young couple walking through a similar immigration story, and to learn from bicultural kids who have already started down the path that Gabriella is walking.

It’s always nice to be reminded that you are not alone.

The Luxury of Indecision

Don’t you just love furniture you buy in a box and assemble yourself? 

It’s like a specially ordered team-building exercise with a product you can use waiting at the end. Early in our dating relationship, Billy purchased one of these fine activities and asked me to help him put it together. 

Unfortunately for him, I am weak in the area of “completing tasks with tools” and really see myself more as someone who tell stories and attempts to make others laugh while they are busily working. This philosophy does not bode well for me in the job market… there are very few openings for “court jester.”

So there we are… me prattling on and Billy studying a wordless diagram that makes little to no sense and trying to put poles together in a way that you would trust it to bear weight. Not looking promising, folks.
After being instructed to sort various parts, I look at the booklet… look at my piles… and declare, “I don’t think we have everything.”

Billy surveys the situation, searching for the missing bolts and poles. Sure enough, save some liberal use of duct tape, we can’t put this piece together.

“Bummer!” Billy exclaims. “That’s too bad.” He begins gathering the pieces, tossing them back into the box. “I guess I’ll take this down to throw it away.”

Wait… WHAT?!

Then I learned that, in Guatemala, you cannot return anything to the store! Apparently, even if you bought it and it’s short pieces, you just curse your luck and cross your fingers for next time. Billy and I were both awe-struck. Me that there was a place in the world where you can’t return an incomplete piece of furniture, and him that there was a place where you can: Wal-Mart.

Billy was so nervous I was lying about return policies, he basically begged me to lead the way. He was certain that when they asked for his Driver’s License, he would end up being deported, or worse… the retail staff would publicly mock him for thinking he could return a broken item.

Thankfully, I’m a professional “returner,” so I’d pretty much been training for this day all my life. I approached the service desk while Billy lurked nearby, ready to act like he didn’t know me when the rotten tomato throwing began.

Soon we were on our way home with a new box of pieces to assemble. Great. Why didn’t I just let him throw it away?

I was flabbergasted to discover that exchanging defective merchandise was a luxury. Not to mention the times I simply change my mind… or don’t feel like trying something on inside the store. I’m glad I could introduce Billy to the American dream of indecision and return policies. Now I drive him crazy by collecting piles of merchandise and shouting, “Don’t touch! I’m taking them back.”

Are you a big “returner”? Do you have an unusual return policy situation? Do you like building your own furniture?

I Love You: The Video

Today is a brand new experience as I enter the world of technology with my first video blog! I'm happy for you to meet the man behind the stories as Billy joins me in this storytelling endeavor. Enjoy!

If you want to catch up on all the posts about how we met, click here or keep going to read Guatemala: The Top 5 List. If you want to read more about my husband's immigration experience, begin here

So… You’re Always Going to be Latino?

One day, we walked out of the Spanish service at our church, and it was almost like Billy released a deep sigh. "I need this interaction with Latinos," he told me. It was a statement that took me a while to understand.

When we first me, I knew he had grown up in Guatemala. We were both living in L.A. with its prominent Latino presence. (You might say that...) And we ate pupusas and joked about Spanglish mix-ups. I knew without a doubt he was Latino.

But after two years of marriage, we relocated to Atlanta. Life was moving along swimmingly, and we were both enjoying meeting new friends and sharing this adventure together.

I didn't notice anything unusual... at first. But then I observed Billy getting tongue-tied speaking Spanish. He was forgetting words. And he struggled in a way very different from me in not feeling completely himself in certain situations.

Over time, we realized we needed to make some changes in our life to incorporate more Latino relationships. We been seeking out a multiracial church, and Billy joined a soccer league comprised nearly 100% of Latino players.

And Billy relaxed.

I hadn't really recognized before that he was tense. He is quite comfortable with people from different backgrounds. But when I really think about it, it makes perfect sense.

Always being the only Latino in the room. Always speaking in your second language. Always running tone, actions, and expressions through a cultural filter so you don't get offended at innocent remarks or miss important, subtle clues. Always trying to make sure you are acting, reacting, and speaking in culturally appropriate ways.


This understanding was revolutionizing for me as a wife. I was recognizing a unique aspect of my husband's social needs. This isn't to say he only hangs out with people that look like him or talk like him.

We still highly value diverse friendships. But it does mean he needs spaces where he can speak his first language. And places where he can relax in the culture.

As we discussed his original statement to me, all I could say is, "So... you're always going to be Latino?" My question may sound ridiculous, but it really was an eye-opening conversation as we began to flesh out some of the realities of living out a cross-cultural marriage.

Billy just laughed at my question and answered, "Sí."

Billy and I will be at the 2012 Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) Conference next week in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We are leading a workshop discussion on cross-cultural marriage and multicultural families. If you are attending, we invite you to join us! We'd also love to connect. You can "tweet me" at @SarahQuezada.  

When You Know It's Love

Photo Credit: Fernando Kuri
Most days I eat lunch around 10:45 am. And yes, I have been publicly mocked by my co-workers. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I am a big fan of eating.

Imagine, therefore, my shock and horror when this boy I’m now “officially dating” casually mentions that he often doesn’t eat lunch at work. It was a concept with which I am unfamiliar. I can play it cool when you tell me you’re a hardcore rock musician or even that you lived in a closet for a year… but you don’t eat lunch? What?? Seriously?!

The explanation was vague and forgettable. “I’m so busy with work, I don’t have time.” “I get tired of eating out.” Yada. Yada.

Right then and there, I marched into my kitchen and made Billy a lunch for the next day. Nothing gourmet… just a turkey and cheese sandwich. I probably threw a couple chips in, too.

This memory is what Billy recounts any time I ask him the question, “When did you know that you loved me?” As they say… the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

I’ve tried to unearth the reason this experience was so meaningful to him. Basically, he told me, after immigrating to the States, this simple gesture of making a sandwich stands out as the first time someone took care of him. The independence that comes with immigrating can be unbearable at times, I imagine.

So I made him a sandwich, and there was no turning back for Billy. When did I know I was in love with him? I don’t tell my side of the story as often because it’s usually quite unromantic and typically odd.

One of my clearest memories is sitting in a movie theater watching Spiderman when I turned and looked at him and thought to myself, yes, I do love him. It seems many of my relationship defining moments happen while watching television.

The next step will be for us to actually tell each other of our love. I roped Billy into joining me for my first video blog as we drop the L word. The story involves a traffic jam, packing boxes, an overnight flight to Guatemala, and a waiter. Good times!

P.S. I've been writing a "series gone wild" about how my immigrant husband and I met and began dating. If you want to start from the beginning, click here or keep going to the video post. If you want to read more about my husband's immigration experience, begin here

Celebrating Guatemala's Independence

This past Saturday was Guatemala’s Independence Day, celebrating its freedom from Spain in 1821. One day, I was busying myself thinking about how I can incorporate Guatemalan culture into our multicultural family. (Oddly, I spend a great deal more time thinking about that than the actual Guatemalan living in our house.)

I decided our family should celebrate Guatemalan independence day.

In the past, we have incorporated Guatemalan traditions in our Christmas celebration, and for Gabriella’s first birthday we brought out a piñata. But this would be a day solely about celebrating her Guatemalan heritage.

Since she’s still too young for my ambitious visions of handicrafts and educational activities, we settled on having lunch at a Guatemalan restaurant here in Atlanta. After arriving, we learned the Guatemalan restaurant we’d visited previously had since gone out of business. Sad.

Thankfully, since I’m now rockin’ the smart phone, I didn’t have to employ my usual tactic of calling my sister and asking her to “Google something for me.” Nope. Smartphone Sally led us on a wild goose chase that landed us in a strip mall with Vietnamese noodle restaurants. Delicious, but not exactly the Guatemalan celebration I had in mind.  Strike two.

So we piled back into the car and tried again. Though routed to the same location, the phone now directed us another two miles away. We were quite thankful to pull into our third parking lot and see this sign.

Billy always gets excited when we eat at Guatemalan restaurants, and I forget how important that cultural connection is. It’s amazing how food is tied to our hearts. He ordered the traditional Guatemalan dish pepian.

And me… I ordered tacos.

Though I love to travel and I love culture and love writing about culture, I’m not really an adventurous eater. I thought I was for a while, but it turned out that was because I had never been asked to try new foods. Nope. It seems the food tied to my heart is, well… pizza.

Gabriella is too young to have any understanding that we were celebrating Guatemalan independence or that she was eating “hen soup.” But I am glad we started the tradition nevertheless.

I know she’s half American. I know she looks white. I know she will probably speak English better than she speaks Spanish.

But I also want her to deeply know that she is half Guatemalan… that her father immigrated to this country. I want her to know Spanish like her grandparents, and I want her to celebrate Guatemala’s independence.

This Saturday was a wonderful start to that tradition.

Bilingualism is Cool

I am not what you would consider a “with it” person. I tend to hop on board trends after they are cool. Several popular TV shows I didn’t even start watching until they had gone off the air. Of course, the benefit of that is there is pretty much nothing better than a bag of Sour Patch Kids and a Prison Break marathon once it’s all on DVD.

Although, I guess I’m betraying that I’m still behind the times because I watch DVDs. These days it’s all about Netflix. I’m feeling pretty good about myself because last month I finally got a smart phone, which is why, if you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I’m tweeting a bit more these days.

But when I saw this article, 5 Trends for Teaching Kids Languages, I thought, “This must be what it feels like to be cool.” I mean… cool in a nerdy, linguistic kind of way.

We, of course, have focused on their #4, the One Parent, One Language method. That choice has worked pretty well for us, you know, except that all her “fun” words are in Spanish.

And I appreciated that they mentioned the language delay (see, I had to mention that again), which is why we actually did decide to incorporate some of #3, the sign language. She’s really taken to that communication tool the last several months, which has been awesome and often funny.

She’s figured out her own version of “more” that, instead of touching all her fingers together as shown here, she cocks her head to the sign, brings her hands up by her face, and barely touches only her two index fingers. I’m sure this written description doesn’t capture the hilarious cuteness and by extension, manipulative effect when she’s requesting more of something: watermelon, tortilla chips, swinging, you name it.

I was particularly intrigued by the article’s mention that a growing number of families are deciding to learn even more languages than just two. I recently read this article about schools here in Georgia teaching Mandarin, which is creating a bit of a stir.

Billy would love it if we became a multilingual family. He’s been talking for years about learning Italian. Of course, my response is usually the highly supportive, “No, you cannot learn a third language until I at least learn Spanish.”

Recently, as he was checking out Learning Italian for Dummies from the library, he answered by reminding me that I’ve been saying that for years. “You’re holding me back,” he declared. Nice.

Well, I love language, so I never want to hold anyone back from their multilingual dreams. I guess I better start learning more words than just pompies.

What do you think about these 5 Trends? Have you tried any of them? What has worked well or been challenging for you?

3 Tips for International Travel with Families

After bouncing around three Central and South American countries in her first year, the Backpack Baby has remained surprisingly Stateside in Year 2. This stability has allowed us all to get in some patterns and to sleep a bit more. 

Sometimes, though, these roots start to itch, so we are excited to be planning our visit to Guatemala next month!

What makes this trip even better? Our friends are traveling with us! After mass (and only mildly chaotic) coordination, the seven of us are booked on six different flights going to and fro. Wait… didn’t I just say we coordinated? How did this happen?

Collectively, we’ve starting discussing ways we need to prepare for transporting four adults and three kids under the age of five outside of the country. There’s lots of things that remain the same… we’ll need socks and shoes, swimsuits, and children’s Benadry (oh, wait… I mean lollipops) for the plane. But a few topics require discussion.  

Car Seats

How do you ask good and conscientious American parents, "So… exactly how strongly do you feel about car seats? I mean, sure, if you want to use them, we’ll bring them… but… um… just so you know… we may or may not “forget to pack” one.” After all, we just tend to let our baby drive anyway.


I may have an obsession (read: deep-seeded fear) about electric showers. I guess asking my host family to “help me shower” for the month I lived with them really made an impression. Therefore, I feel a fair warning is in order.

“So... the shower heads are electrified. Don’t touch them. And don’t worry… Billy will just help you.”


When asked what a four-year old might need a little preparation for, I wondered. “Well, there are a lot of security guards with really huge guns… like, opening the door to greet you at McDonald’s… that might be startling.”

Billy assured them we won’t be eating at McDonald’s on our international adventure. But then our friend asked, “Do they have an indoor PlayPlace?” And we all mumbled to ourselves. Yeah, we may end up at a McDonald’s. Maybe if we're lucky, they'll give us a traditional "Coke para llavar."

I am super stoked about this trip and so excited to share it with friends. I expect many a good blog post will develop from our time together. Maybe I should ask them to sign a media release or something…

What are your tips and tricks for travel with families?

A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.