Washington, Immigration Reform & You

From a 2004 art installation by Mariana Viturro and Angelique-Marie Gonzales, commemorating the at least 3000 people who have died or been killed trying to cross the US-Mexico border since operation Gatekeeper began in 1994.
[Creative Commons, Hossam el-Hamalawy]

Today I’m flying to Washington DC to urge Congress to pass immigration reform. Naturally.

To be honest, I’m feeling a little nervous about it. And overwhelmed with so many thoughts. Excitement of seeing the Church stand together on this issue. The “bigness” of what it will mean if reform is passed. Fear of disppointment if it is delayed yet again.

When I was invited to DC, I think I envisioned myself being one of a crowd, showing support by helping to create a mass. And that will be part of it.

But then the email asking for my press release arrived and I was like, “What am I doing exactly?” They asked why I am going to DC and why Congress needs to pass reform now.

My reasons are so deeply personal and yet wildly collective, and I’m having trouble putting them into words. I gave a brief statement, but I’ve been reflecting on that question more.

I’m going to DC because I hate the fact that my in-laws have not had the opportunity to meet Isaac. We are heading to Guatemala next week, but they have been repeatedly denied visas to visit us here in the States. They were not allowed to come for our wedding or the births of our two kids.

I’m going to DC because I’ve witnessed workers being exploited by bosses who know they have no recourse. I’ve seen employers become so used to this power they behave in ways that deny their own humanity as well.

I’m going to DC because I’ve listened to stories of separation, abuse and terror. Families who sought a better life have experienced tragedy in ways never expected.

We can do better. 

We can love our neighbors better. Maybe… you know… as we love ourselves.

I’m going to DC because the Bible tells me so. My faith has taught me to stand with the hurting and oppressed. My faith has said God cares for children (and adults), regardless of country of origin. My faith invites me to welcome the stranger.

So I’m going to DC. And why is now the time to pass reform?

Because we’ve waited too long already. Because elections are coming, and everyone will ignore this issue again in an effort to avoid controversy. Because this isn’t a political pawn to be moved and manipulated in ways that best serve politicians.

Immigration is about families, about churches and about communities that live and breath and are suffering in this unjust system.

The time for change is now. 

I would like to ask for your help. You can read the Statement of Principles for Evangelicals on this issue. And here are some ways you can engage, especially today and tomorrow:


I know. Christians always say this, but for real. Pray against principalities that seek to maintain oppression and destroy families. Pray for the 500 evangelical leaders descending on Washington. Pray for our meetings with Congress. Pray for reform.

Social Media It Up

There’s this cool tool called Thunderclap that you can join. It will save a post for you and send everyone’s out at the same time, making waves on Twitter and Facebook. You can join in here. Also, if you’re a tweeter, hashtag #Pray4Reform and help create buzz!

Show Congress Your Support

I’m always super intimidated when people ask me to talk to my Congress peeps. (So apparently I’ve decided to go meet them first before I start emailing…) But seriously, all the work is done for you here. You just read the draft email and edit if you want. Put your name and state and it gets emailed to your reps for you. Totally easy… we can do this!

You all have been so supportive as you’ve read our family’s stories over the years. I'd love to hear that you're taking these steps (or others) in the comments. Thanks for standing with us as we seek to make changes for other families. Seriously. Thank you.

If you want to read a follow-up from the trip, click here.

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Translating Toddlerese

You know how... when you have a conversation with someone else's toddler, the kid mumbles indistinguishable sounds while the parent hovers nearby and translates?

At first I wasn’t doing this for Ella. Mainly because she’s incredibly articulate and speaks in discernible sentences.

But then I realized, IT ONLY SOUNDS THAT WAY TO ME.

It took me a moment to notice that people were kind of staring at her in silence after she said something. Then it hit me - I’m supposed to be translating!

So I’ve been getting better at that, although it is just one of the many awkward new things you have to do as a parent. Do I talk in an over exaggerated, baby voice? Do I communicate the information to the intended audience or do I repeat it back to her loudly as a sort of passive way to let the listener know what the heck she was saying to begin with?

Ah, parenting… the ultimate confusion.

Anyway, the other night, Ella ran into the room where I was sitting and rapidly garbled some message to me that was completely indiscernible. What on earth?

Billy soon followed her into the room and in an over exaggerated voice repeated, “Si, a paso de conejo." I would later learn that this was part of a song from the 80's that involved a breakdancing bunny singing about brushing one's teeth. (What?)

Oh my goodness. She was speaking to me in Spanish!

It was both my greatest dream and worst fear all tangled together as one. I am so excited to hear her joyously repeating Spanish. And I'm trying not to overreact at the fact that I am like an outsider who cannot understand her and Billy has to translate for me.

Oh, and interested in the dancing bunny? Enjoy!

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3 Surprises in Cross-Cultural Marriage

It wasn't a big shock to many of my friends when I fell in love with a guy from Guatemala. I loved culture and was living a rather multicultural life with friends from all over (especially Latin America). Cross-cultural marriage was not a surprise.

Of course, even though I feel like I walked into this relationship with my eyes open regarding the realities of culture, there have still been experiences different than I expected.


His cultural identity wasn't a novelty that only existed in our dating experience. It’s not the same as a youthful physique or interesting hobbies that may ebb and flow in the lifespan of a marriage.

No. Every day, he is Latino. He sees the world through that lens. He speaks with an accent and may ask me to explain idioms.

His need to connect with other Spanish-speakers (and Latino men, specifically) is real and has not faded the longer we've been married or the more American friends we've made.

I’m reminded that I cannot (read: should not) get frustrated when he doesn't catch every word I’m sputtering rapid-fire when I get excited. And sitting in rooms where I don’t understand what people are saying is part of the make-up of my marriage… long-term.

In fact, I’m often convicted that it's truly never too late for me to start buckling down and improving my Spanish because it will always be a part of my life.


We've done a lot of different kinds of churches as a couple. Small, multicultural church plants. Small, Latino gatherings. White mega churches. Multicultural mega churches. And now we’re engaged in a mid-sized Latino congregation.

They are a warm family that has welcomed our multicultural crew with open arms. They are generously accommodating to my English-speaking self, providing translation headphones and speaking to me in English.

I am grateful we are involved in a place where our family "fits." It has been a beautiful place for Billy to interact with Spanish-speaking Latinos and for our kids to meet other bicultural children.

As we combine cultures in our family, I believe there will always be aspects of church that are culturally different for both of us. And we're thankful for a community that has space for us to include both. 

Couple Friends

I read the most amazing and hilarious article several years ago about the trickiness of “dating” other couples and trying to find friends that both spouses enjoy. And now there’s this additional factor of “Does Ella get along with their kids or do they run away crying when she tries to trap them in small spaces?”

We’re actually very grateful for our community of friends, which includes a lot of couples (and kids) whom we all enjoy. As you might expect, most of our friends are either American or Latino families.

I think we are somewhat used to that dynamic at this point in our lives. But there is something unique about meeting other cross-cultural couples as we have opportunity to giggle at the same scenarios. It’s one thing I've really appreciated about this blog is the chance to meet other folks saying, “That’s exactly what it’s like at our house!”

The reality of our life together is that in many of our friendships one of us is always in their second culture and/or language. It doesn't make those relationships less wonderful, but it does sometimes mean one of us doesn't quite understand what’s going on (this is usually me since I don’t really have a second language).

Cross-cultural marriage has surprised me with joy, humor and adventure in ways I never imagined. And there have also been areas of navigation that I didn't expect.

What about you? If you are in a cross-cultural marriage, can you relate? What other areas in your relationship have surprised you?

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Listening Between the Lines

Becca is a beautiful friend who lives practically down the street from us and tells thoughtful, inspiring stories on her blog The Stanley Clan. (She is also an AMAZING photographer!) Becca invited me to guest post today, and I was excited to do so. You should definitely check out her blog or connect with her on Twitter

Listening has never been as simple as the words.

One of my favorite things about college and singlehood was analyzing boy-communications with my girlfriends. There were forwarded emails… What do you think he meant by that? Replayed voicemail messages… See how he paused right there? And my favorite… Reenact it for us!

We were basically a drama troupe of awkward boy-girl interactions. It was amazing.

But one thing we knew, whether totally true or exaggerated, was that the words were only one piece of the communication puzzle and the rest had to be unearthed. We needed to read between the lines.

After all, haven’t we all heard that statistic that gives a heavy majority of communication to body language anyway? Listening has never been as simple as the words.

My husband speaks English as his second language. His English is superb, but every now and then I rely on my translation filter. It understands what he meant rather than exactly what he said.

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Passing the Torch of Rebellion

My freshman year of college, I stood in my dorm room, looked at my roommate and gravely announced, “I’m going to do it.” I was, after all, a grown-up now.

She came with me to visit my first haunted house.

Well, maybe first should be qualified. I had been to a church-sponsored event… during October… that depicted a twisted drunk driving crash and followed the victims into their unfortunate afterlife. It was a way to simultaneously warn against alcohol and encourage the sinner’s prayer.

But at nineteen years old, my Halloween experience had been limited to church carnivals dressed as Queen Esther with aluminum foil balls paper clipped to my ears. I’d never been trick-or-treating.

After all, evangelicals don’t really do Halloween. 

At age twenty, I bought an edited version of an Outkast CD at a used CD store in Little Five Points, Atlanta. It was my first ever non-Christian CD purchase. I just couldn’t get enough of “Ms. Jackson.”

I should confess that I had owned a cassette tape of a Spice Girls single in high school. I promptly threw it in a bonfire during youth group one summer. 

I love culture. It’s kind of the bread and butter of my blogging. And those unique, but shared, lenses through which we see the world fascinate me. The sociologist in me just can’t stop examining our cultural perspectives.

Of course, here’s the thing about culture. It’s often so hard to recognize your own. After all, the way I see things is just “normal.”

Discovering Addie’s blog that boasts the tagline “How to Talk Evangelical” was like stepping into a childhood home after a long absence. She reminded me of SYATP mornings, early Monday prayer breakfasts and that feeling of being “on fire” for God.

I’ve been reflecting on that part of my life recently, especially because I just programmed the Christian radio station in my car. The fact that they are still playing the same songs I listened to when I was in high school is both comforting and annoying.

Because now that I have kids, I find myself wanting them to have a similar evangelical upbringing to the one I’ve been tip-toeing away from for so many years. The thing is... I think I feel this way because that culture protected me.

Sure, I spent a lot of time worried about falling off the tightrope of God’s will, but that fear and faithfulness kept me from a lot of things I may have regretted today. And I never felt like I was suffering for it. I had fun and funny friends. We didn’t just sit around debating the Bible. Rather, we just had good times together and generally stayed out of trouble.

I want that for my kids. Healthy, positive friends who are trying to love God and grow up unscathed. I want their biggest rebellions to be haunted houses and an edited hip hop CD.

But I’m also aware that I walked away from more than that when I left high school. I started getting to know poor people… and people of other ethnicities with different Christian experiences and expressions. And I found a lot of my pat, church answers lacking.

If poverty was directly correlated with laziness, then why wasn’t God “blessing” my hard-working, urban neighbors?

And even if I did meet a person not exhibiting a good ‘ole Protestant work ethic, how could I love them so much more than God apparently did?

How could someone love God deeply yet still wrestle with addiction, poverty and violence?

How did the structural racism and injustice I was clearly witnessing fit into a Biblical worldview that I had understood solely in an individualized context?

What did it mean to be a leader and a woman… when the messages surfacing in my mind was that these two identifiers could not co-exist?

Honestly, some of those things were probably not the actual espousing of the Evangelical tradition. In fact, when I consider the true words of my parents, my friends or my youth pastors, I don’t hear those messages. Still, somewhere along the way, I had internalized them, and I was now saying them to myself.

So while I maybe want my kids to have some of protection I experienced in Evangelical culture, I’m discovering I don’t want them to be sheltered in other ways. I want them to know that faith is not a checkbox, but a journey. I want them to tangle in the grey of living out a life following God in a broken world. I want them to witness God in the diversity of Charismatic expressions, high church liturgy and Jewish faithfulness. 

These are the rebellions I hope to pass on to my children.

Did you grow up in Evangelical culture? Write your own post about when you were “on fire” and link up with Addie’s synchroblog. And you may also be super excited (like I am) about her memoir that releases today!

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Red Means Stop. Green Means "Go Already!"

You know when you’re sitting at a stoplight and it turns green but the person in front of you doesn’t move? Chances are you’re waiting behind us.

When Billy is driving, I often find myself sitting at green lights. Sometimes I mumble, “It’s green.” And sometimes I respond, “For crying out loud, go already!”

What kills me, though, is when I look over at him, he is often staring out the windows. Finally, this weekend I told him, “I have never known someone who comes to a stop and then starts gazing around as much as you do!”

He was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “You know, that’s from growing up in Guatemala. I’m always checking all the mirrors because you never know when someone will run up with a gun. It’s habit.”

Oh dear. How do I respond to that? It’s harder than you might think to switch from annoyed mockery to sincere listening in .5 seconds.

Americans worry so much about safety. We buy alarm systems and dogs, wear helmets and seat belts, recall every baby item ever made and put speed bumps on our slides. Some of these practices are good and some a bit over the top.

Yes, things happen in the States. Yes, it’s good to be wise. But overall, we take our general safety for granted. 

Of course, Billy’s response to me is, “Only Americans would sit at a stoplight, staring at it to turn green.” And he’s probably right.

My culture focuses on independence and efficiency. We’re always late… always hurrying. We can’t take public transit… it might slow us down. We’re impatient at red lights.

Moments like this surprise me. It sometimes amazes me how much our backgrounds influence the big, but also the small, everyday ways we interact in the world… even waiting at a stoplight.

In what everyday scenarios do you see culture peeking through?

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To My Blog Readers

Hey there, friends!

I've been writing this blog for over two years now. (Can you believe it?) I'm so thankful for those of you who've been here since those first posts as well as those of you who've joined in over the months.

May I ask you a favor?

I'd like to know a little more about you, who you are and how you describe your life. One of the things I've loved most about blogging is the people I've met through the stories, the comments and the tweets.

Still, I know there are others reading who've only known me casually through Facebook or who arrived here some other way, and we've yet to connect.

I want to make this blog the best I can for my readers. So I'd like to know you better and learn what you most enjoy reading here at A Life with Subtitles or what you would like to know. We hope to offer encouragement, support and humor to other folks living out this multicultural life.

Naturally, I have created a short survey to help me in this endeavor! Please feel free to fill out as much or as little as you like. I truly value your responses. Thank you!

Photo credit: Zsuzsanna Kilian

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Wanna Sprite with this Bag of Cats?

If you want to test out your bilingual skills, there is basically no better place to do so than a drive thru.

More challenging even than the telephone, those garbled speaker systems put even the native English speakers to the test. You can imagine, then, what I witness from the passenger seat when Billy orders.

Speaker: Welcome to.. (satellite alien noises)… may I… (static) order?

Billy: I want a number one and a number three.

Speaker: You want fries or tots (excruciating feedback)?

Billy (to me with a panicked expression): What?

Me: Fries or tater tots?

Billy: What are tater tots?

Me: You want fries.

Speaker (louder this time, if that were possible): FRIES or TOTS?

Billy: Fries!

Speaker: (fuzz… gurgle…beep) Sprite? 

(Apparently, Sprite and fries both have a long "I" in the South, so they're basically the same word...)

Billy: FRIES!

Speaker: You want a Sprite?

Me: Say “french fries!”

Billy: French fries!

Speaker: Okay, french fries. And you want a Sprite to drink?

(I’m giggling and shaking only a little bit…)

Billy: No, just water.

Speaker: (The sound of someone dropping the microphone) It comes with a drink, m’am.

Billy (to me): Why does everyone always think I’m a woman?

Me: (Unable to respond because now I’m silent laughing and wiping a few tears.)

Billy (exasperated with both of us, returning the speaker): That’s okay. Just water.

Speaker: But it (screeching cats) comes WITH A DRINK!

Billy: Fine! Give me a Sprite!

Me: (Can’t. Stop. Laughing.)

We don’t hear the total because it’s both overshadowed by the soundtrack of a kickball tournament in a racquetball court and because Billy is over it and is already pulling forward.

Maybe next time I should do the ordering...

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