Is Race Fake?

I'm delighted to be a guest poster today on By Their Strange Fruit. This site is a great resource for conversations on race, justice and ministry. Check it out!

Back when I wrote My Latino Husband Is White, I mentioned I would one day blog more on the topic of the social construction of race. Today I am true to my word.

In preparation, I spent several days searching madly for my Sociology textbook. I finally discovered it late at night high in Ella’s closet. I then proceeded to over-excitedly pull it down, causing other items to fly, bounce off her bookcase and crash to the floor. Oh... all while she’s sleeping.

This raucous caused Billy to whisper angrily, “What are you doing?”

“I found my Sociology book!”

“And you need that now?” he asked me… at 11:45pm. Um… yes…

Anyway, I remembered an illustration the book used that I wanted to steal share, but I didn’t want to botch it. 

You'll find that example and more in the post today.

And welcome any new visitors to A Life with Subtitles. I'm so glad you're here! I hope you enjoy looking around. In particular, you may be interested in some of the posts on multicultural identity.

You can learn a little bit about our family here or check out the story of our immigration journey. Some favorite posts from that series are How I Met My Husband and How My Husband Came to the States.

Thanks for stopping by the blog. Feel free to leave a comment ~ I love to meet new people!

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The Dignity of Work

When Billy and I were first married, I was working at a university, engaging college students around issues of poverty, homelessness, immigration, and criminal justice. He was working as a supervisor of underground drilling for fiber optics. Similar, right?

I was organizing trips to Tijuana to have dinner with deportees or taking students downtown to spend the afternoon talking with the homeless. He was avoiding gas lines and water mains and pulling fiber cables.

Sometimes I wrestled with this chasm-like difference between our work.

I had often assumed I would marry a youth pastor or a social worker or something in that general “ministry/helping people” category. I sometimes not-so-subtly hinted to Billy that he should quit that job and work for a non-profit organization.

Then one Saturday, he invited several of his co-workers to our apartment for lunch. He made his signature tacos. Someone picked up the guitar and sang folk songs to everyone’s delight. The women helped me clean the kitchen. The men unveiled a cake they had brought celebrating a promotion Billy was rumored to be receiving.

Everyone chattered in Spanish around me, and I basked in the joy of a community of friends, even though I understood very little. Then Billy exited the room, and everyone went silent.

I realized they were all looking at me.

Finally, the guest with the strongest English turned to me and said that he wanted me to know how much they appreciated Billy’s leadership. That he never yelled or screamed at them. That he was always joyful and nice to everyone. That he taught them new skills and wanted to see them succeed.

As you can imagine, I was proud of my husband, but in reality, that experience completely transformed my view of what it means to help people.

Yes, I was discussing the challenges of immigration with my students, but Billy was offering immigrants work where they could provide for their families, were treated with dignity, and could learn new skills to seek out promotions with higher pay and greater freedoms.

This lunch shed new light for me on the dignity of work. Providing jobs is certainly a way to help people.

Writing it out like that makes the concept seem painfully obvious, but I must confess I didn’t always see the connection between business and management skills and service to others.

I am thankful for how my outlook has expanded in this area. How have you seen dignified work be a blessing to others?

This post was originally shared on the Mission Year blog November 2011.

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I Pledge Allegiance {Revisited}

I am currently on maternity leave and using this time on the blog to share some guest posts and favorites from the archives. Tomorrow Billy is taking his test to become a US Citizen (prayers welcome!). In honor of that experience, I'm sharing again the post of why he made the decision to become a citizen in the first place.

This is what we received in the mail today:

Since Billy and I have been married at least three years (well... 5 and a half, but who's counting?) and he's been a legal permanent resident for more than three years, he is eligible to become a naturalized citizen. And today our lawyer mailed us the study guide.

"Why become a citizen?" you may ask. "What's the difference between that and a legal permanent resident?"

There's a lot of difference of opinion about whether the citizenship is worth the effort, money, and (I think, more importantly) the emotional and identity shifts. In fact, many immigrants proudly announce that they will never become citizens. And I understand that sentiment. An LPR has the right to work, live, travel, open a bank account, buy a house... pretty much everything.

So why go for the next step? I can only tell you our reasons.


Whereas the green card (the document confirming one's legal permanent residence in the States) used to be approved indefinitely, it now has to be renewed every 10 years. This means if Billy were to commit a crime, he could potentially "lose" his status. Now... before you get nervous... that's not really our main concern.

More importantly, Billy has always worried that a sharp shift in politics could change laws. And the expiration date on his green card allows an administration to decide they will no longer renew these documents. As we know, immigration is a controversial and heated issue, and sentiments about the topic often sway directly in relationship with economics and media. Knowing that you'll always have to renew leaves space for some doubt, especially when you are from a Central American country.


This is truly the main difference between an LPR and a citizen: the right to vote. Citizens (including myself) often take this prividlege for granted. But Billy has been disappointed to have to stand by and watch campaign ads smear immigrants, call them names, and spread fear without the opportunity and recourse of being able to vote in the elections. So many immigrants do not even have voting as an option that Billy feels compelled to take the next step to share his voice.

Jury Duty

Okay, he really couldn't care less about this part. But it is the other difference between what you can do as an LPR and a citizen. Of course, this citizen is still waiting for her moment in the jury box!

So now we study. Billy was quizzing me tonight, and it seems I can keep my passport. I surprised myself with details I could remember from the 6th grade. His source of knowledge was a little different: "I've seen enough action movies to know that the President serves as the Commander-in-Chief of the military."

No worries. We definitely seem good to go.

What do you remember from Civics Class? Ever had experience with the Naturalization Test? Any advice?

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I Am 100% Z {Zakiya}

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 saw a t-shirt in Rio de Janiero one summer. In big black print it said “100% Negro.”

I am still the proud owner of that shirt today.

One time I let my Korean-American friend wear it when we made a music video mocking a song by a white rapper by the name Bubba Sparxxx. Yes, we were in college. Yes, the video still exists. No, you cannot watch it. Yes, it was AMAZING.

A few years after purchasing that shirt I was at a new job when I heard…

“Zakiya, not only do you march to the beat of a different drum, you have a whole different drum line.”

That was said by one of my best friends, Rayshaun. She keeps it 100.

She said that because I am a mixed-up, funny, surprising, multiracial, multicultural, multi-living lady.

One of the funny things about my life is that people often assume I am…

Latino. I love Latin America—but as far as I know, I’m not Latino in any way, biologically. Nonetheless, people will start speaking to me in Spanish regularly. I’m not complaining. Aye Chico!

Indian. Maybe from near Hyderabad, where one of my best friends’ family hails. The Pallapothus are such lovely people. Whether or not I am wearing my ghagra that Saritha had made for me, I can “pass” for Indian. Mrs. Pallapothu makes about the best food in the history of all time so I am Indian as often as possible. ;-)

Middle Eastern. “Zakiya” means several different things in Arabic. I had a man once straight tell me that I am Egyptian like him. I assured him that while I have deeply enjoyed a bit of Egyptian culture, I am not from his motherland.

And still others are confident that one of my parents is White, whatever else I am mixed with.

Well, you guessed it—that’s not the case either, and yes, there are also plenty of White people I love. And there are some things affiliated with White American culture that I ascribe towards. Like…hum…music by Amos Lee and Pink Martini. I’m guessing there aren’t droves of brown Americans chillaxing to those guys.

My friend was right—I have an eclectic drum line of races, cultures and ethnicities that have formed the beautiful symphony of sounds that is me. Both of my parents are African- American. My dad’s dad was Jamaican. My mother has described herself as technically probably being one-third black, one-third white and one-third Native American. I have Scottish ancestry on both sides of the family.

Um…all that won’t fit on my t-shirt…“25% Jamaican, 20% Native American, 25% Unknown African Origin, 20% Scottish and 10% Unknown”...wow…I’ll just continue to call myself Black American and wear my t-shirt the way I found it in Brazil!

The hard part is that I don’t fit in just right anywhere. I am not Black enough.

The great part is that I fit in a lot in quite a few places. I have people all over the country and world that would open their homes to me and treat me like a sister.

Fellow Americans reject me sometimes because I do not meet their expectations. International friends receive me because I exceed their expectations of Americans. Go figure.

But don’t cry me a river. Now at the ripe age of 30, I’m more compassionate than ever for myself and for those who try to box me in OR out. I’m just 100% Z.

I’m finally comfortable being who I am. And I am busy enjoying the sound of my drum line.

Zakiya is a proud Southern woman happily living in Michigan and loving life. She loves God, outrageous laughter, community development and numbers. Check out her blog, Southern Z or connect with her on Twitter (@zakiyanaemajack).

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Grab a button for this series ~


Welcome Baby Q #2

It's with great joy that we introduce you to the newest member of our family.

Isaac Guillermo Quezada
8 lbs 9 oz
20.5 inches
Born July 10 at 8:27am

It's been so fun getting to know this little guy. He is one of the chillest babies I've ever met. I mean look at that hair. You can't fake that kind of cool.

He is definitely a sleeper. Of course, I only have one baby to compare it to, and I simply have no memories of her sleeping as an infant. She was just super active from the beginning.

People used to say, "Oh, babies just eat and sleep." I just thought that was a cruel joke told to first time parents.

I had hoped to have this post up last week, but I was busy trying to figure out why hospital staff don't coordinate their incessant room visits. And I was laughing non-stop at Billy's ridiculousness when he kept wanting me to challenge another recovering mother to a race as we re-practiced walking in the hospital hallways.

All in all, Isaac's birthday was a wonderfully, special experience. I am so thankful that he's arrived, healthy and joyful.

Ella is getting a big kick out of being a big sister. She is very concerned about his umbilical cord "boo-boo," and she gets overly thrilled when he's awake. "Isaac open his eyes! Yay!!!!" I think he endeared himself to her when he greeted her with a gift. What's not to love about a brother that brings you purple pom-poms?

So far this baby doesn't seem to speak English or Spanish, just "googly goo." Still, I'm sure down the road we'll have even more inspiration for our bicultural baby-raising tales and adventures.

For the next few weeks, I hope you'll keep visiting the blog. I pre-planned some content in case I was too bleary-eyed to write. There will be some guest posts, a few hi-lights from the past, as well as a few new-to-here posts I wrote back in the day.

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You Kinda Look Like Me {Revisited}

I am currently on maternity leave and using this time on the blog to share some guest posts and favorites from the archives. This post was originally shared May 2012. I am looking forward to see what traits I may have passed on to Isaac!
Take a look at that driver's license picture and tell me yours is not good. Every time I look at it I hear the news caster in my mind: "The child was last seen with this woman….” My face is flashing on the mental screen.

I love to pass this photo around because people never know exactly how to react. I can make fun of it… but are they allowed?

Did I just wake up? Am I wearing a shirt? I mean, what is going on here? I did tell one of my co-workers I was going for a serial killer look. She laughed and said matter-of-factly, “You nailed it.”

It's cool. I have long known that I'm not super photogenic... this was no earth-shattering news at the DMV. I smile too big or I look too serious or my eyes are crazy.... it happens.

Still, when I look at this image, something new has come to light that I never saw before. It is with deep joy and wild enthusiasm that I share some long-awaited and highly-sought after news. I have finally discovered a trait that I have passed on to Gabriella.

It hasn’t been easy. From the moment she was born, all I have heard is “She’s like a little Billy!”  Yes, what every mother wants to hear after she awakens from baby surgery is “Are you sure she’s yours?” I mean, technically, I couldn’t be certain. 

After a few too many jokes about how I hoped to go to sleep and wake up a mother, I was transported to 1960 and was having a twilight sleep birth.Whoops... I guess I should be more clear with the doctors next time. Clearly, my brand of humor is not appreciated... or understood.

One of my only memories from my foggy, drug-induced state was telling Billy to “follow that baby and put a ‘Q’ on her foot.” It’s strangely comforting to know that even when my system has been compromised I’ve still got a place for paranoia… and nice to know another circumstance when a Sharpie comes in handy.

But I don’t care about her favoring her father because… well, they’re both cute. And besides, I was holding out for my own secret prize: Handedness. Is that a word? Oh, I love being left-handed. Forget the pencil smudges and cursed spiral notebooks... (will my daughter even know what these ancient writing methods are?) Being left-handed is worth any diner booth rearrangements or scissor mix-ups in Sunday School. 

Surprisingly, I often find myself in both work and personal circles that tend to be dominated by left-handers. Yes, we dominate.

We do not, however, dominate in the game that is genetic roulette. Since Gabriella has recently taken to coloring, I am devastated to observe that she keeps grabbing the crayon in her right hand… no matter how many times I try and shove it into that little left one. It turns out I have nothing to offer her but a big pile of recessive traits.

But this week… it happened. She went with her father to the YMCA and had her ID picture taken. Whereas I imagine he smiled adorably and produced a socially appropriate happy photo, Gabriella did not mirror that trait in her papa. Nope, she followed her mother's lead. 

Now… is that a baby you’d like to meet in a dark alley? I don’t think so! That’s my baby! And how do I know? Look at that face… no one can learn how to take an ID picture like that. It’s gotta be genetic!

What traits have you been surprised to pass on to your kids?

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Our Homemade Castanets

When I asked Gabriella if she wanted to do a project, she threw her hands up in the air and shouted, “Project!” Then she followed up, “Good job, Mama.”

Apparently, she knows “crafty mom” is not my swing zone, but perhaps she also saw my offer as an appropriate outcome of time spent on Pinterest. Actually, this project is from the activities and crafts archives on the website of Daria, a folksinger who promotes world music for kids.

We decided to create our own castanets using just glue, sturdy paper and buttons. A repurposed manilla folder took care of our sturdy paper. Turns out I don’t have a reservoir of buttons, so we collected some coins from Guatemala and my trip to London that were hanging around.

The glue, however, was a mysterious matter indeed. There’d been a glue stick lurking around the house for months. We never used it, but I’d find it in the kitchen by the fruit bowl or, for a long time, on my bathroom sink. Today it was no where to be found.

Eventually, I scrounged and located another glue stick to stand in. Once all our supplies were together, we were ready to start. 

I cut two strips from the folder. (Ella keeps telling me she uses scissors, but one trial run proved that assertion to be a lie.) Then, I let her color them for good measure.

They looked pretty much awesome.

Then, all we did was glue the coins on each end, fold them and voila! Our own castanets! 

This was such a simple and fun craft for Gabriella and me to do together. And I love that Daria’s activities foster introductions to and appreciation for music of the world. It’s such an important part of culture and one that Ella loves at this stage.

Definitely check out her site and the full list of her activities and crafts. She’s also got CDs featuring global music that I’m excited to sample.

All in all, this activity built my confidence that maybe I can do crafts with my toddler. Of course, I’m still convinced I will wake up one morning and a rogue glue stick will be staring down at me from my nightstand. 

What are some of your favorite global crafts for toddlers?

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. However, I only write about topics I believe would benefit my readers. The kid and the opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

What Do Gang Members, Sorority Girls & My Toddler Have In Common?

Head out on the 4th of July, and you are likely to see folks in every shade of red, white and blue. Chances are you'll also see flags on t-shirts, shorts and spandex body building onsies (true story). My kid likes hers via ice cream cone.

Now, in general, our family doesn't tend to be the type that wears a lot of Americana paraphernalia. Maybe that will change when Billy becomes a citizen.... who knows?

But I remembered an article I used to teach in Sociology 101 entitled "Prison Gang Members' Tattoos as Identity Work: The Visual Communication of Moral Careers." I think you can see where this is going...

No? Well, basically the author is sharing how gang members used physical symbols (tattoos, in this case) to help visually construct and solidify their identity creation. The meaning attached to various tattoos identified someone's status and rank or career markers, such as how many people they had killed.

Wait, how does this relate to patriotic ice cream cones? I think the sorority girls will shed some light.

When we analyzed this article in my class, we discussed what physical markers students use to help materially "create" their identities. We usually touched on bumper stickers, athletic wear and the like, but at a big, state university, it always came back to Greek life.

Students would share about the symbolic letters monogrammed onto bags or sweatshirts and the other ways they dressed or labeled themselves to construct an image of a sorority girl. Many stated that they wanted others outside the group to recognize their involvement, as well as other "sisters" to know they belonged.

Identity Work.

As we hope to help our daughter construct a multicultural identity from a very young age, we also use material markers. And one of those is clothes (because hey... tattooing a toddler is frowned upon...).

We stocked up on progressively sized Messi jerseys when we were living in Argentina, and she has been wearing them since infancy. She lovingly refers to it either as "my soccer" or "my 'Tina." (It's better than a Bimbo jersey!)

(If you're wondering why she looks like she's been crying, it's because moments before this photo she learned the hard truth that a pair of shoes actually has assigned feet. You can't just put them on willy nilly and expect it all to work out. Being a kid is tough...)

She also wears her clothes from Guatemala.

Clothes are one way that we are affirming her multicultural identity and representing the different aspects of her heritage in outward, visual ways. For that reason, I say bring on stars and stripes and ice cream cones because my baby is American, too!

Of course, if she feels culturally indecisive, she can always just decide to not choose and hang out in the ocean. (Warning: Totally unnecessary, but shamelessly cute photo coming. I figured... I already put three, what's one more??)

Now that was totally worth the extra second of reading, right?

What material symbols do you use to construct your identity? Do you think clothes help create a multicultural identity? Do you wear patriotic clothes? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!

Mother of the Year: The Dentist

I had no idea of the existence of “Mommy Wars” until I became a mother and discovered there was always someone on the internet with a "judgey" opinion on my parenting. Apparently “lofty planner who generally ends up winging it” is not a respected mothering strategy. 

Still, I am doubtful that many moms actually feel like they have it together all the time, so I write posts about how I can’t operate a car seat and failing at preschool Valentine’s Day

A “Mother of the Year” series is practically writing itself. And to add to its archives, I give you… our first trip to the dentist.

Showing off her goodies from the dentist.
En route to her appointment, I stopped at my office. Ella quickly discovered a co-worker’s cup of chocolates. I was in mid-transference when I tried to renege, reminding Gabriella about the dentist. This, of course, meant nothing to her.

Because I’m the only mom on the planet who never carries wipes with me, we arrived at the dentist with chocolate smeared all over her clothes and face. Strike One.

A quick clean-up, though, and we jumped into the chair. Actually, she was a stellar dental patient. The only bumpy part was flossing.

Ella clawed at the hygienist’s hands and tried to do it “herself.” Even the professional could only floss two teeth before looking at me and saying, “So yeah, just do that every night to get her in the habit.” Um… yeah, right.

When it was time to clean my teeth, I realized I didn’t bring any toys. Naturally, I gave her my wallet to explore. She littered my credit cards and nail files on the floor before opening the zipper pocket to find… a sucker from our earlier trip to the bank. “I want this!”

Oh, dear. We are still in the freakin’ dentist office. They have just cleaned her teeth. But I also need to avoid meltdowns and get through this appointment. I uncomfortably opened it while chiding her, “Gabriella, you’re not supposed to each suckers at the dentist office. They are supposed to think we never eat these…”

The hygienist mumbled something about “as long as you brush right after….”

I may have underestimated the challenge of parenting without toys and a stranger’s hand in my mouth. After she crunched the sucker down, she was out of the chair and wandering the room. She particularly enjoyed the button that activates the electric toothbrush.

To try to help, they gave her a toothbrush to play with, which she wanted me to open. Then, she began sliding it on the floor, trying to pick it up with her toes. Oh, did I not mention she wasn’t wearing any shoes?

She had been wearing three of my unlaundered socks on one foot. She discovered them at home when I may have been too lazy and pregnant to stand up and get her a tissue to wipe her nose. So she piled them on and lovingly referred to this as her “big sock.” Somewhere along the way, though, “big sock” had disappeared. 

When her “toe-picking-up” was unsuccessful, she simply snatched up the new toothbrush and stuck it back in her mouth. So basically, I let the dentist office know in no uncertain terms that if they wanted to clean my daughter’s teeth, they better find a way to protect them to chocolate and suckers… and they better sanitize their floors.

When I later told Billy about our day, he was literally fist pumping in the air. Apparently, there were moments during his stay-at-home dad days that he felt I didn’t understand how a day could go from completely normal to barefoot and licking chocolate-covered toothbrushes off the dentist office floor. Now I get it…

Does your child like the dentist? Can you relate?

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