Fabio Introduced Us to Italy

Much of our efforts in raising multicultural children (that’s right, I’m practicing that word… children) have understandably focused on Latin America. However, while their bicultural identity development is certainly important to us, we also want them to have a broad, global perspective.
When I heard from Plushkies about their global characters, I decided it was time for us to branch out country-wise. It wasn’t long before Fabio arrived on our doorstep.

I decided Italy was a good choice due to our family’s affinity for “Italian food.” In fact, there was a brief period where Ella simply referred to dinner as “Pizza time!” This was particularly awkward when we were with others and she would use the word pizza in the place where most people would simply say food.
Ella’s gotten a big kick out of Fabio and his big chef’s hat. And we’ve had some fun conversations about pizza, spaghetti and the colors of the flag of Italy. (Or “Itty” as it’s come to be called in our house.)
According to my Pinterest feed, I have a lot of friends who are mamas, teachers, homeschoolers or soon-to-be teachers. So when Plushkies asked me if I’d like to share about their characters, I thought they might be of interest to those of you seeking to educate young’uns about our globalized world.
Check ‘em out. They have characters from China, the US, Mexico, and of course, “Itty.” And they have resources that provide facts, song and games from the countries. It’s a fun way to introduce multiculturalism.
In our house, we’ll keep talking about flag colors, hugging Fabio and eating pizza.

What’s one way you’ve introduced multiculturalism to young children?

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.

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What If You Had To Answer This Question?

A few weeks ago, I shared this video on Facebook. It’s a little long, but if you have a couple minutes, it’s a challenging scenario on homelessness from the TV show “What Would You Do?”

Literally, the very next day after I shared this, I found myself in a similar circumstance and was forced to see what I really would do.

A man walked into a fast food restaurant while we were there and started asking Billy for money. It turns out that I will act a bit confused, focus exclusively on my children and shuffle with them to a table, leaving Billy to decide what he will do.

Things escalated when the staff noticed he had entered the building and began shouting for the security guard. Suddenly, it felt like the whole restaurant was zeroing in on this man and hollering for him to leave. For a moment, I expected the cameras to emerge.

But again, I stayed out of it. Kind of like the guys who most annoyed me in the video...

I have always struggled with how to approach homelessness in the most loving and dignified way. After years of living in the city, it still baffles me.

Do you often encounter the homeless in your community? What do you do?

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Traveling with Two: 3 Bad Decisions and Counting

Recently, our family welcomed Isaac into our wonderful world of wacky, and I suddenly discovered I was a mother of two. This raw fact shakes me to my very core.

Thankfully, my mother, an experienced mother of two, offered to come stay with me during my recovery and to help out with the kids. That. Was. Awesome.

However, after three glorious weeks, it was time for her to return to her home. Ella, nor I, was taking it well.

“No problem,” I said. “I understand you have to leave. I’ll just come with you!”

And so I did.

My mother and I road tripped it the six hours to Kentucky in merely eight hours. Everything was great. Billy would drive up later in the week to retrieve us.

It was then that I realized there was no way home except driving back. Yes. Billy and I would share our first minutes as solo parents, without a professional in sight, on a family road trip. Bad decision #1.

However, Ella ventured out on fourteen flights in her first year of life, covering five states and three other countries. Why wouldn’t we expose dear Isaac to the same lifestyle of travel foolishness? Besides, if my mom and I could handle it, surely Billy and I could. Right? No, seriously... right?

Let’s just say… it could have gone better.

In this photo below, we are parked in an Arby’s parking lot. Billy is inexplicably barefoot, and Ella is covered from head to fingertip in Cheeto dust.

Shortly after this photo was snapped, I was dragging Cheeto chica across said parking lot, where she decided to go limp and eventually, lay spread eagle in a handicapped parking space.

Inside the bathroom, she sobbed while I scrubbed the orange of her skin. An stranger tried to distract her by telling her how pretty she was and how awesome her shoes were. Ella did not react as desired. (She responded how I wanted to – deadpan look, begging the question “What on earth?”)

There was one of those moments as we tried to get everyone buckled in and ready to go that both kids were screaming wildly. Billy and I could not stop laughing. I think that’s the first sign of going crazy…

Also crazy… we had spontaneously decided to leave in the late afternoon rather than the next morning as planned. Bad decision #2.

We were two severely sleep-deprived drivers, each seeking to convince the other that we were more tired and should not have to drive. Of course, I lost that bet as Billy basically threatened to kill us with his eyes closed.

He quickly pulled over at the next exit. Bad decision #3.

Nothing scares these two city kids more than a rural exit on I-75 with boarded up gas stations, a string of motels (you know… where every room has an external door) and creepy, gaunt people watching us and pointing. We’ve never switched places, changed diapers and fed small mouths so quickly.

I soon learned driving was the lesser of two evils as Billy ended up in the back seat of our Honda Fit, smashed between an infant car seat and another occupied by a tired toddler. She had never traveled long distances in her booster before and quickly realized it is not as easy to fall asleep in an upright position. She shared with us her displeasure.

We rolled into town near midnight with a toddler who’d fallen asleep folded in half only about fifteen minutes prior. I’ve never been so happy to see our home.

Now the only advice I can offer for traveling with two children is: Don’t do it!  

But, of course, that’s easier said than done. And now that we’ve applied for Isaac’s passport, the world is our oyster!

Do you travel much as a family or have memories of childhood family trips? What are your best/worst ones? And what are your tips for surviving?

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I Don’t Hate You… It’s Everybody Else

Last week, I heard Father Gregory Boyle share a beautiful, inspiring talk at Plywood Presents on kinship. He proposed that if kinship were the goal, we wouldn’t be chasing justice, but celebrating it.

He told powerful stories of his work at Homeboy Industries and the beauty of watching rival gang members work together. He admitted that when they discovered they’d be working alongside enemies, they eventually agreed but always with the caveat that they would not speak to their new co-worker.

But friendships were made because, as he said, “It’s impossible to demonize people you know.”

I was deeply struck. I am a firm believer that diversity in relationships is one of the most powerful ways to facilitate real change in our individual hearts as well as in our world. Father Boyle’s statement is one of the main reasons why.

When it comes to immigration, there are heated and impassioned conversations about “immigrants” or “illegals” (a label I extremely dislike). But when a relationship exists, it’s rare to see a heart unchanged. Words soften. Complexity is acknowledged. Solutions are sought.

I was reminded of this reality when I read Bronwyn Lea’s story online. She and her husband are South African, living in California, working in specialized fields and applying for green cards with fingers crossed.

I am so grateful for her sharing her heart, and I think it’s imperative to have perspectives that remind us how broad and diverse the immigration issue truly is.

The reader comments again affirmed that as people hear relatable stories, they respond with compassion. However, there was often a disclaimer saying essentially, “Well, it’s not you we have concerns about, it’s these others…” Insert broad labels and stereotypes here.

I imagine there are immigrants who come to this country with drugs in their pockets and ill intent in their hearts. I personally haven’t met them, but maybe I run in the wrong circles.

I have met families who arrived by crossing the border, but this illegal act did not speak for their entire character. Many were fleeing desperate poverty and seeking a future that, even if lived in the shadows, meant life for their family.

Maybe before I knew these immigrants, I could not understand even that reasoning. But again, “it’s impossible to demonize people you know.”

Please know I am not saying that knowing someone makes everything they do ok. I still believe whole-heartedly our immigration system is broken. People should not be living in the shadows. It’s not good for the country, and it’s not best for the families.

But as we continue to build relationships and truly listen to the hearts of people and the realities of their stories, my hope is we will keep compassion at the forefront of the conversation. I pray we can find kinship and celebrate justice together.

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Light In My Eyes

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; 
the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. - Plato

“No sun in my eyes!” she announces (over and over), proudly sporting her summer shades. 

The sun seems to have hassled poor Ella disproportionately since birth. Without the sunglasses, we usually hear “Sun in my eyes!!!!” being shrieked from the back seat.

We turn to watch her thrashing in her car seat and pressing her hands desperately into her face. Sun. In. MY EYES!!! (She’s only a little dramatic, and I have no idea where she gets it from…)

I was watching this episode unfold when I remembered the link-up on SheLoves Magazine that I’d been contemplating on Light.

Generally, we love light. Those first sunny Saturdays in the spring cause people you’ve never seen before to pour out of their homes and jump on bicycles. Where were these folks all winter?

But light can sometimes overwhelm us. When my eye doctor confirmed that the blue pigment in my eyes is often very sensitive to sunlight, I kindly asked her to write that down for my husband.

I’ve been telling him this fact for years when we walk out of dark buildings into bright sunlight and he leaves me in the dust while I wander in circles with my eyes closed. (She totally did because she’s awesome and also wrote me a prescription for sunglasses, which I found amusing.)

Light is easily a metaphor for truth. And I think of truth in a similar fashion. I love it, and I want to run into it like a sunny day. But it can also shock and overwhelm me.

This week I’ve had to face some hard truths about deeply personal issues. And I want to slam my eyes shut and scurry back into my cave of denial. The sun is in my eyes.

Still, I know light nurtures growth and the only way to move forward is to open my eyes, let my pigment adjust and take a bold step forward.

It will be beautiful. It’s good to be where the light is shining, even if it hurts a little at first.

How do you respond to light?

And link-up your own post on light at SheLoves!

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Proud To Be An American

I cried through most of Billy’s naturalization ceremony.

I had no idea I’d be so emotional. But there I was, in an office building in Northeast Atlanta, seated among 120-something immigrants from over 50 countries with juicy tears rolling down my cheeks.

For nearly six years, we’ve been receiving letters from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Each one was highly anticipated and had us running out to the mailbox seconds after delivery each day.

Every step was communicated via letter. “We received your application. You’ll hear from us soon.” “Appear at this time and place to be fingerprinted.” “Your interview has been scheduled.” “Please keep this letter for your records.” “Appear at this time and place to be fingerprinted… again.”

And the wildly good news in the same manner. “Congratulations. You are authorized to work legally in the United States.” “Congratulations. Here is your “green card.” You can now live here legally.”

Letters and cards. Worth more to us than gold. Could have gotten lost in the mail.

When Billy received this date for his citizenship interview, it was twelve days after Isaac’s due date. Ella had been ten days late and we stayed another five in the hospital.

But the letters assigned dates, they didn’t ask for preferences. So we marked the calendar, and I remained nervous that I’d be eating lemon sorbet in the hospital when Billy left me to take his very important test.

Thankfully, I was at Isaac’s two week pediatrician appointment when Billy called to tell me he’d passed the test. “Yay!” I celebrated. “When is the ceremony and can I come?”

“Actually, it’s at 2:30, if you think you can make it.”

What on earth?! But of course I wasn’t going to miss this, so my awesome mom chauffeured me from the pediatrician’s office on one side of Atlanta to the complete opposite corner. (Oh yeah, I still wasn’t cleared to drive myself.)

I don’t remember when the tears began exactly. But when the woman who led our ceremony looked across the room of all these people from so many different places and simply acknowledged our journey, I felt seen.

“I know you’ve worked really hard to get to this place,” she said. “This is a really big accomplishment, and we are here to celebrate.”

I had never thought of becoming a citizen as an accomplishment. So much of our experience with the immigration system felt like necessity, an arduous process to simply live with peace in our hearts.

But when she said it, I thought, “This is a big deal.” Cue tears.

And then I looked around me. We were surrounded by people who had been through a similar journey as we had.

(In fact, I actually was seated among the honorees rather than in the family section. Whoops! It turns out when you’re carrying a 13-day old baby, everyone is distracted by his rock star hair and let’s you do whatever you want.)

I wanted to know their stories. The couple from Indonesia sitting in front of us with their two children. The Indian woman next to me. The Colombians behind us that cheered the loudest when we went through every country represented.

I knew some had a relatively simple experience while others most likely had challenges unimaginable to us as they walked towards this day. Tears continued to flow.

There was this sense of closure that I didn’t foresee when I heard the woman congratulate us on coming to the end of such of a long road. And I felt such deep relief.

It’s over. Completely over. Billy is a United States citizen and as far as I know, they can’t ever take it back. The only thing he can’t do is become President, so I guess we’ll have to mark that off the bucket list.

It’s a journey I never expected to take. And some days it felt like it would never end. It’s hard to believe that nearly six years, three addresses, two states and two kids later, we’re closing this chapter of our lives.

When we started dating, I didn’t even understand what it meant to be undocumented. We held this significant secret in our hearts. We had a community that understood, that supported us, but it was still our secret to hold.

Since then, we’ve moved steadily through the process and we’ve shared our experience on this blog and speaking to groups. It’s been amazing to hear others’ stories and to continue to learn how the immigration system affects individuals and families.

Billy’s main reason for becoming a citizen was his desire to vote. We’ve just met too many people and heard too many stories from people that cannot speak up without great risk that we feel compelled to take every opportunity available to us to continue to seek change.

Thanks so much to those of you who've read our story, shared it and encouraged us in the telling of it. I am a big believer in the power of personal experience to make a difference in how someone thinks about an issue as complicated and sensitive as this one.

It certainly did for me. I just met a boy at church who laughed at all my jokes. The rest just came from loving him.  

How I Know We Didn't Kill Him {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 published in September 2011.
“How is your family?” I asked when my husband got off the phone. 

“Good,” he said.  “They just called to check on us and tell me that they killed that Argentine guy.”

Maybe this is all couples, I can’t say, but it took me about five more full minutes of conversation before I said, “Did you just start this conversation by saying that they killed someone?”

As my time with Billy has progressed, I’ve developed a non-detectable filter.  Now,  my husband has impeccable English, but sometimes words come out in a “unique” way.  

My filter lets me hear what I know he meant, not what he actually said.  

For example, the reason I didn’t catch my in-laws apparent murder confession was that I immediately knew that he was saying his parents called to let him know someone in Guatemala murdered this Argentine folk singer.  It made sense.

I also know that “We were talking with Sarah’” means, “Sarah and I were talking.”  And “I heard that the other day” probably means about five years ago, before we even met.

And when Billy got tired of hanging wall art, but I had a few more picture frames... he handed me three nails and a hammer, saying, "Go kill yourself."  This one stumped me for a minute.  Until.... "knock yourself out" came to mind.  

Sometimes knowing a little bit of Spanish helps.  If I feel confused for a moment, I can translate it back to Spanish and realize the English was a direct translation.  Like “she has 5 years” isn’t a prison sentence... it’s a direct translation from Spanish of “she’s 5 years old.” 

The Filter.  Undetectable, but absolutely necessary.

What are you short cuts for cross-cultural communication?  

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Fighting Plaque and Saving Souls

I am currently on maternity leave and using this time on the blog to share some guest posts and favorites from the archives. This is an edited version of a post originally shared on my MySpace blog back in good 'ole 2006. I write on A Life with Subtitles a lot about Billy's culture, but I think it's good to balance that with posts about my culture as an 80's/90's kid growing up in the Evangelical world.

The fact of the matter is that I kinda like video games. Not in the psychopathic "where-have-the-last-five-days-of-my-life-gone" way, but every now and then I enjoy some video gameage. (As a sign of the times perhaps, in 2006 I said five hours, but when I read that now it didn't seem like that would seem like a lot to many people...)

Due to a small lack of finances, I never had a Super Nintendo, which I always thought would've been pretty cool. Still, my dad was (is) a computer guy, so I had the blessing of a Commodore 64. Most importantly, I had the most awesome of games.


Bearing a striking resemblance to its evil twin PacMan, I moved my man (read: toothbrush) around a maze-like board. All those PacMan dots were actually teeth in this version... teeth that I needed to keep clean.

As "bad guys" passed over them, they'd become yellow, then black before rotting right out. I had to keep up... brushing over the decaying teeth and restoring them to their former glistening glory.

Remember the PacMan "power dots" or whatever in the four corners? Yep. In PlaqueMan they were fluoride tablets, protecting you from the evil teeth gnomes.

So I'm releasing my question out into the Internet... Anyone? Has anyone EVER in their life played this game? I'll even settle for someone who's heard of the game or maybe knew someone else who played it. Seriously... anyone?

If that doesn't ring any bells, I'll throw out one more: "Spiritual Warfare."  

Basically, in this game, you ran from neighborhood to neighborhood, chucking the fruits of the Spirit (shaped like bananas, apples and the like) at unsuspecting passers-by. I guess this is how I first got interested in community ministry?

Oh, but it gets better. You can't, of course, kill people with the fruits of the Spirit. You can, however, convert them. Yes. As you hit each neighborhood resident, they would disappear and their little soul would float up into the 2D sky. Just. Awesome.

I'd love to know if I'm alone on this one, too? I will confess that I was never able to beat this game. I made my way through the Demon's Lair and was defeated by Satan time and time again. Hmmm.... What does that do for a young adolescent's theology?

So some of my deepest darkest secrets are out there. Anyone else willing to share they played these games? In 2006, I got no validating love. No one had heard of these gems. Maybe you have your own amusing games or Christian pop culture contribution to share? Let me know!

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I Am 100% 3rd Generation {Ra}

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.

Sometimes I wonder if other people think about their cultural identity as much as I do.  

While thinking about cultural identity can leave you thinking a lot about yourself, I’ve realized that those mostly self-focused thoughts end up greatly impacting the life and people around you. And when it comes to learning how to be in cross-cultural relationships, knowing your cultural identity becomes really important.  

My journey with understanding and accepting my heritage has shaped the way I live in the world.  It’s shaped how I choose to use my voice, what I advocate for, and what I want my life to be about. 

I grew up right outside of Los Angeles and spent my childhood years riding my bike with my cousins to the local park and playing boby-sox softball. I also spent my childhood taking floklorico (Mexican folk dancing) classes, learning how to make tamales from my nana and aunts every Christmas, and being around people that looked a lot like me.  

Both my parents are second generation Mexican-American, and while I did not grow up speaking Spanish as a second language, our family’s Mexican culture was all around us. Being third and fourth generation Mexican-American was normal for me.   

Most of my friends were third generation Mexican-American, and there was always this unspoken awareness of the cultural tension we lived in. We didn’t speak Spanish, but we could understand it and string a few words together. 

We knew our culture, but also felt the draw to let it go.

It wasn’t until I went away to college that I began to realize that how I viewed my cultural identity was not necessarily how others perceived me. “You’re not that kind of Mexican” or ”I’m glad you speak English!” were comments I heard throughout my four years living in the Pacific Northwest.  

Sometimes I felt glad that I had made the cut, that I had been accepted by my classmates despite their preconceived thoughts about me after hearing my last name. This was how I had come to view my cultural identity at this point.   

My “Mexican-ness” was something that had come to be surprising, tolerated and accepted based on what was acceptable, or normal, to my friends who had grown up in a homogenous culture. Likewise, I had no want or desire to cultivate my Mexican cultural identity past what I had known and learned as a kid. 

My attitude towards my cultural identity has drastically changed. Coupled with this change has been a growing desire to develop a greater language and understanding around cultural and racial awareness.   

No, I do not speak Spanish fluently. No, I have never been to Mexico nor do I have a strong connection to strong cultural traditions. 

I am a third generation Mexican-American and I love my heritage. 

I think there is a beautiful ability that we who represent the third, fourth, etc generations have. We have the ability to return, to come back to and  re-learn our families histories. We have the ability to come back to the culture that we have spent (consciously and sub-consciously) letting go of. 

As I continue to live in different parts of the U.S., I am reminded that cultural awareness and sensitivity is something that we, as people who honor the dignity of others, should be talking about. The more we position ourselves to only be around people like us, the more we develop perceptions and stereotypes that can be damaging, limiting, and ultimately dehumanizing.   

We are not the same.  And learning to be in relationship with others of a different cultural background requires an awareness of this simple truth.  

I am a third generation Mexican-American woman.  How I see the world, interact with others, and live my life is shaped strongly by this identity.   

What is your cultural identity?  How has it impacted how you live, act, and think?  Think about it…it could have a greater impact than you may realize.

Ra graduated from Eastern University’s Campolo College of Graduate and Professional Studies in community development in 2013. She loves to write and play music, sit at coffee shops, and finger paint (she claims to be quite good). She has a life goal to meet Brandi Carlile. She works with Mission Year as the Philadelphia City Director. You can find Ra on Twitter.

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