I Am 100% Nothing {Andres}

100% is a guest post series focusing on multicultural identity and the unique journey of connecting with more than one culture. To share your story, click here.

I recently had the chance to read Junot Diaz's work for the first time ever, and to my surprise, it has been huge in thinking about my multicultural identity. In his amazing book “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” there is a part where Diaz begins describing perfectly the reaction, feeling, smells, and emotions the main character Oscar feels as a Dominican-American returning to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 

I laughed as I read it because it perfectly described what goes on in my mind every time I return to Guatemala City in Guatemala, my parent's country, but also mine. 

There is a great line Diaz attributes to Oscar as the story progresses when he returns to Santo Domingo, a line that I readily identify every time I visit Guatemala as an American: "…after he refused to succumb to that whisper that all long-term immigrants carry inside themselves, the whisper that says You do not belong..."

Since I was young, my parents ingrained Guatemalan Pride into us. Today, I realize that I was able to grow up with a very positive image of my home country because my father, who graduated as a doctor from the University of San Carlos in Guatemala, was middle class and could have lived comfortably in Guatemala, a story very different from the majority of Immigrants to the US. 

Nevertheless, Guateamala was everything and traveling there constantly helped cement a certain pride in the place from where I come. In this respect, my parents did great. My culture was positive. 

I realize as I travel and continue traveling to Latin American countries like Guatemala that while the US is great and filled with opportunities. Guatemala is something else and has things to offer that the American Dream does not. 

I loved Guatemala growing up, but my parents let me be who I was growing up: an American. 

I think what I ended up listening to on my ipod says a lot to my experience growing up and having the ability to recognize my biculturalism. It reflects my multicultural life and experience. 

You see, I really enjoy Spanish music. I love Spanish Rock, Spanish Pop and have recently acquired a taste for my mother's Argentinian Spanish oldies. Growing up, this music is what we would hear as my mother cleaned the house on Saturdays. That and Marimba - lots of Guatemalan Marimba my father listens to repeatedly.   

However, my favorites also include artists like Sufjan Stevens. White hipster music perhaps, but great music that I can identify readily with as he writes about his experience growing up middle class in the Midwest. This is also who I am. Included in my mix is English rock alternative, old school jazz, classical and indie.

A video that cemented my multicultural identity was a promotional video from Univision talking about the new Latino experience, especially its buying power. It highlighted my experience and the fact that I could live on the crossroads of my two cultures. 

It was alright to listen to Spanish oldies or pop, but also to like folk music. I am at liberty to do both. It doesn't matter that I also grew up American and Latino. What I like and how I grew up is a valid experience, and I continue to validate it everyday.

It took a long process, but I think I have come to a comfortable place with my identity. Being Latino is no shame to me when I'm around white culture or my white friends. I proudly say I listen to Spanish music or enjoy Latino food. 

However, I am also not ashamed to say I am American and I like American things when I'm around Latinos or when I am in Latin America. 

I am in a distinct position to do both. I am not 100% anything. I am a mix. I have always been a mix of several cultures and experiences.

Andres Villatoro: I'm American. I'm Guatemalan. I'm Midwestern. I'm Christian. Follow my thoughts on Twitter (@netoduk) or email andres.villatoro[at]my[dot]wheaton[dot]edu.

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What NOT To Do: Tips From a Monolingual Mom in a Bilingual Household

SpanglishBaby has been one of my favorite parenting sites ever since I became a parent. It's such a fun honor to share a guest post on their site this week.

From the moment the test read “pregnant,” it didn’t take long before I was sitting on a plane reading about the OPOL method and other strategies for giving one’s child the gift of two languages.

Friends asked me about birth plans and attachment parenting, but I researched precious little of the topics concerning my other mama friends. I was fascinated by language development and raising a bicultural baby.

The only problem? I don’t speak Spanish. I was relying on my Guatemalan husband to make my bilingual baby dreams come true.

Maybe it’s because I know what it’s like to be monolingual in a multicultural world, but I highly valued passing on both Spanish and English to our daughter. With her nearing 2 and 1/2 and our second bicultural baby on the way, I realize I have learned a lot these past couple of years about what not to do as the monolingual parent in a bilingual home.

And if you're visiting from SpanglishBaby here for the first time, welcome! Thanks for stopping by! You might enjoy other posts I've written on our bilingual baby experience or about cross-cultural marriage.

Some favorites around here have been My Latino Husband is White, How I Met My Husband, and How My Husband Came to the States. (Apparently, this is really his blog! All I have is Why Are American Girls So Smelly?)

I hope you'll stick around and check out the site. Feel free to leave a comment ~ I love to meet new people!

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How to Use Bilingualism Against Your Spouse

We needed to break a $20. “I’m going to go and buy a chocolate,” Billy told me.

I looked at him expectantly, fully anticipating him to end with his favorite form of chocolate: “shake.”

When he didn’t, I followed up. “A chocolate what?”

That’s when he gave me attitude. (It’s my blog, but I’m completely unbiased…) “Um… a chocolate….?” He looked at me condescendingly… (or possibly amused… it’s hard to say).

“Um… a chocolate what?” I responded with an equal “you-are-a-crazy-person” tone.

“You don’t know a chocolate?” he asked me, definitely full-fledged mocking at this point.

Well, two can play at that game. And I have an advantage… I know English. “No one says just chocolate in English,” I assured him. “Chocolate is not a noun. You need a noun! It’s an adjective!” Because every rational argument involves dramatic (and inaccurate) references to the parts of speech.

“Okay,” he backed down. “I guess I’m getting a chocolate bar.”

Ah,” I confirmed with exaggerated clarity. Ah yes, the rare, yet infamous candy bar. I know that of which you speak.

After the brief errand, he returned home and sat down to munch on his candy bar. “You should write a blog about that,” he told me sweetly. “You know, like about the word chocolate.”

Awh, man.

“Well….” I confessed. “I may be wrong that no one ever uses the word ‘chocolate.’ I may have just been confused and then annoyed.” [Insert sweet smile and batting eyelashes here.]

He, of course, responded with humor and grace, and it was a ridiculous dispute that quickly wrapped up with the shaking of heads and shared laughter.

I’m sure you’ve never pretended to not comprehend what your spouse was saying. You’re not like that. It happens to us occasionally. Of course, now that I think about it, I usually do believe Billy when he says he doesn’t understand. Maybe he’s just tricking me!

So, seriously, has bilingualism (or just plain selective translation) ever infiltrated a disagreement?

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The Pastoral Prayer

He kneels at the front,
approaching the throne of God.

The music hums softly
while babies coo,
parents murmur softly
and toddlers anti-whisper.

She rests her warm head
against the side of my arm.
Giggles escape as she tears
the legs off another elephant.

I raise my sticker-covered hands.
You are the Author of beauty.
Forgive my weakness.
Gracias for another day.
Help me to get through it. 

One breath to pray - 
that's all I have.

I Am 100% Mixed {Rochelle}

100% is a guest post series focusing on multicultural identity and the unique journey of connecting with more than one culture. To share your story, click here.

My name is Rochelle and I’m a half Egyptian, half white gal who grew up in an all-white suburb in Minnesota. My mother calls herself a Heinz 57, being a mix of French Canadian, Irish, German and many other European ethnicities. She’s a beautiful Caucasian woman with gorgeous freckles and a great smile. My father is 100% Egyptian and immigrated to the States in 1978.

I was not like any of my friends growing up. Our house always smelled of garlic and onions (since my mom did her best to be a proper Egyptian wife and cook Middle Eastern food). I was usually a little embarrassed of my dad, friends would straight up tell me they were scared of him.

In middle school (after 9/11) people teased me, asking if my dad was Osama bin Laden (at the time it didn’t occur to me how deeply racist and xenophobic this was). I desperately wanted to look like my friends, straightening my hair and plucking/shaving/waxing any excess dark hair that made me look…Arab.

I never learned Arabic and had no interest really. My mom learned it enthusiastically. The only times I heard it were when my parents spoke it if they didn’t want my brother and I to know what they were saying, or when we would go to Egypt to see my cousins. All I remember about those days in Egypt were being over-fed, hot and completely unaware of what people were saying.

Fast forward to college. I was awarded the Multi-Ethnic Leadership Scholarship, which required a commitment to meet frequently to discuss issues of diversity on campus. I began to wonder about my cultural and ethnic identity in a new way.

I realized that culturally, I am American through and through. Ethnically, I am Egyptian. Growing up I simply tolerated the existence of Egyptian culture in my life, but in college I wanted to dig into it.

I studied abroad in Cairo in 2008, and it was one of the most revealing and empowering seasons of my life. I learned conversational Arabic and really got to know my cousins for the first time.

Bridging the language gap allowed me to see them for who they are: hilarious, sarcastic, deeply loving people and not a bunch of sweaty loud people who dress funny. I took taxis on my own, ordered food, engaged with strangers on the street. I was elated.

I now have a much deeper appreciation for my Egyptian-ness. It’s so much a part my identity, in fact, that I am considering keeping my last name when I get married in a few months (yep, tying the knot with my love of two years).

After all, when women marry in Egypt they keep their last names. I feel lucky that my fiancé wholeheartedly supports this idea, if I decide to go through with it.

My father is a huge part of my life and I’m so grateful to him for all the years of patience when I had no interest in his culture or background. Now I take every opportunity to ask him about his upbringing and practice Arabic, which always ends in laughter.

 Rochelle is an Environmental Educator, Midwesterner at heart and yoga enthusiast. She lives in Los Angeles and loves to cook vegetarian food, go hiking and hang out in parks whenever she can. To learn more about her work, check out www.acespace.org.

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Loving Day in Real Life

So I discovered Loving Day (June 12) this year when my friend Alyssa asked me to write a reflection on the day for her blog.

The holiday commemorates the 1967 Supreme Court decision which made it illegal for states to keep interracial couples from marrying. The couple's last name was actually Loving - how cool is that?

While Billy and I definitely don't encounter much open discrimination (especially since he's white), we do believe culture is such an important part of our marriage. That's one of the reasons we share our story on this blog... in hopes that it encourages other couples in similar relationships!

Check out Alyssa's post on Loving Day and hear from other interracial couples as well. It was a joy to learn more about this celebration and to participate on her blog.

The Beauty and Terror of Craigslist

Craigslist is pretty much amazing. In our household, you can almost guarantee we’re going to check Craigslist before buying any item over about $20.

What have been some of our best finds? Well, we snagged our bedroom furniture from an apartment model. Very pretty, but never used? Sure, we’ll take that off your hands. 

When Billy got a job requiring a cargo van, we bought it (and later sold it) on Craigslist. We sold our car on the site, too, which was great because apparently it’s hard to sell stick shifts. C’mon people, manual transmissions are awesome

We once met up with a guy while on vacation to purchase music equipment. I just hoped it would work since it’s surprisingly difficult to test in a secluded parking garage. 

Same feeling when we purchased a PSP from a teenage boy in the suburbs. Should we have waited until his parents were home? Possibly. 

We even picked up our sweet dog Daisy from a frightening rural area of Georgia. I like to think of us as “rescuing her” since she was outside in the rain and covered with so many fleas, I was itching for days. 

The only major item we didn’t buy on Craigslist was our TV because… you know, we like to buy those in the middle of the night with a mob of strangers

A couple of years ago (before baby), when Billy and I decided to rent out a room in our house, we naturally went to Craigslist searching for a roommate. This process made me a tad nervous because you never know who you’ll meet this way.

However, we had a few promising prospects and decided to meet one guy we’ll call Greg. I suggested we meet Greg at a nearby Wendy’s. You know… just in case he turned out to be a lunatic. Billy strongly disagreed. “Oh no. He sounded fine on the phone.” Hmmm… okay, sure. 

As the time grew nearer to Greg’s planned arrival, however, Billy seemed to become more and more concerned about the whole plan. He started unlocking the back door, assuring me we could make a quick exit… if need be. He repositioned our knives for easy access… because apparently, that might become necessary. 

He began verbally walking me through different scenarios and pointing out items that could potentially be used as weapons. I was listening intently and growing more nervous about this attacker we’d apparently invited into our home. 

Suddenly, I heard myself asking, “Do we have to kill him?” 

I’m delighted to report the answer to that question was indeed a resounding, “No.” We all got through the interview unscathed.

Billy probably mentioned that we go to church like sixteen times in the thirty minute interaction… you know, just to let him know where we stand. 

Ultimately, he seemed a bit too eager to tell us what he thought we wanted to hear. (Basically, it quickly became a “who-goes-to-church-more” contest between the two men while I looked on, utterly baffled.)

Later, we did actually have a girl we met through Craigslist move into our spare room. She was sweet and, except for the time I stumbled up her having internet installed to our house without any kind of conversation, it all worked out well.

What great finds have you discovered on Craigslist? 

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Do You Need A Degree To Be A Pastor?

I grew up in a seminary town. It wasn’t hard to bump into an aspiring pastor or ministry leader just walking down to the local grocery store, never mind the area churches.

I also really value education and appreciate the discipline that many of these young, or not-so-young scholars were seeking as they studied the Scriptures and prepared themselves to lead and guide others.

However, growing up in a seminary town you also meet a lot of people that nearly anyone will say… “Yeah, they shouldn’t be a pastor….” Anyone, that is, except the seminary. After all, that person is paying tuition and possibly excelling in their coursework.

But are they a pastor? Do they have a pastoral gift or calling? Do they have the right heart towards people and towards God to lead in such a sensitive area as spirituality?

In Latino culture, it’s common to meet pastors who have no seminary training. At first, this horrified me… given my nerdiness and high respect for a good ‘ole degree that “proves” you know what you’re doing.

Billy, on the other hand, had a different perspective. “Why would you trust someone to lead you spiritually just because they completed coursework and got a degree?” Instead, he explained a method that focused on calling and confirmation of that ministry by other leaders and co-laborers in the church.

And I thought back on all those whackos… er… “people-who-probably-shouldn’t-be-pastors” I have met in my 31 years of church and ministry involvement (apparently I count my time in nursery). It was a new approach that actually made some sense to me.

Of course, this practice can be abused as well. And there is sometimes a focus on the person that means the ministry is solely tied to them and their calling, which is short-lived.

I’m not saying that one is perfect and the other isn’t. But I am questioning what I have noticed as a quickness to invalidate leaders without seminary degrees, as well as a swiftness to trust and follow leaders with one hanging on their office wall.

I still value education, but there is a reality that it is a luxury and a privilege. And God may choose to use whomever He desires… regardless of degree. There are examples in the Bible of leaders from all education and preparation backgrounds.

As we pursue multiculturalism… especially in the church… we must be wary of placing emphasis on an American cultural value of education in exclusion of listening to who God may be calling into leadership. Choosing who to follow, especially our faith leaders, is a task that requires discernment.

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Every Kid Needs To Sit On A Baking Sheet

This summer has so far has been my favorite one as a parent. Finally, at age two and a half, it’s the family life I envisioned when I was first pregnant: splash pads and zoo visits, strawberry picking and playgrounds.

Oh, playgrounds. It’s like a sociological experiment of parenting and the “society of safety” playing out before my very eyes.

Recently, I looked around at a busy park, and I was struck by what I saw. Parents! They were everywhere.

In fact, it seemed every child was accompanied by one… jogging beside them, talking in animated tones and assisting them (regardless of age) up steps, down slides, and into swings. Every child, I should say… except one.

The whole reason I take my kid to the park is to have a break from the overly-interested voice and the constant assistance. “Go play!” I say and then park myself on a bench.

When it gets awkward is when I notice from my perch that other parents are talking to my child. I watched one dad basically holding back his six-year old son at the top of a slide, while my daughter watched intently from the foot of said slide.

“Little girl… move out of the way!” he coaxed in a sing-song voice. She stared.

I watched for a while, thinking… do I get involved? Or pretend I don’t notice? Because here’s my thing. What’s the worst case scenario?

First of all, these are not the slides of our childhood. You know the ones where you climbed up ten (maybe twenty? my height perception is skewed due to how short I was back then…) feet into the air on steep, metal steps with nothing but a tiny bar to grab onto.

Then, you reached the top and try to maneuver your legs underneath you from the step up onto the top of the slide. The width was as narrow as our tiny, childhood hips.

Your legs plop down on the hot as Hades slide like two logs of raw cookie dough slapped down on a baking sheet. Because that’s what it was… a freakin’ baking sheet preheating in the 100 degree Tennessee summer heat.

You push off and race down the steep summit with no guard rails and were dumped out into the mulch. Hopefully, you knew how to stick the landing like Mary Lou Retton, or you were bound to walk away with mulch prints in your hands and melted thighs.

No. That is not the playground equipment for the children of the twenty-teens. It’s wide plastic steps (or maybe a miniature climbing wall) that leads you to an ample platform where you can take your time arranging yourself at the top.

And no need to psych yourself up. These slides are wide, with soft inclines and often have something akin to speed bumps that basically construct a reality where I have watched my two-year old have to literally scoot herself down a slide.

Where is the danger? No. She does not need to be micro-supervised.

Worst case scenario is this dad’s kid manages to dodge all the speed-inhibiting technology incorporated into slides today, catapults himself forward and crashes into Ella.

And the damage? He would bump her, she’d fall onto the mysteriously bouncy padding playgrounds are made of, maybe cry and probably learn to stay out of the way in the future.

More likely, if his dad wasn’t present, the six-year old would probably yell at Ella until she moved. Then, he’d scoot himself furiously down the slide.

Still all seems safer than my memories of the park. Spinning round and round on the tire swing until we thought we’d vomit, dangling precariously from the (again) hot, metal monkey bars suspended high over nothing but dirt and sparse mulch, and trying not to lose a hand whipping around the merry-go-round.

Oh, the good ‘old days. 

Of course, as I shared this post with Billy, he knew exactly the slide I was remembering. He also announced, "We still have those!" As you can see in the picture of Ella last fall at a Guatemalan playground, she'll get to experience the best of both worlds.

What was your favorite childhood summer play? Do you stay close and watch from afar when your kids play?

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