Cristela and the Prize of Dating White

I follow Cristela Alonzo on Twitter, and I almost clapped like a giddy little school girl when I saw this tweet:
The Christmas episode was one my favorites this season as well, so we eagerly hit play on the Quinceanera episode from last week. (Thank you, Hulu, for making all my belated TV watching dreams come true!)

I sort of assumed the episode would focus on the festivities, but the title "Fifteen-Something" alludes to how Josh, Cristela's white co-worker, refers to the Quinceanera. As it turns out, he is big focus of the story and, interesting to me, the dynamics of a white-Latina relationship.

Cristela the actress has been in a 10-year relationship with a white guy. And she wrote on her blog, "Getting a white guy in the family felt like my family had been promoted." She includes this perspective in her sitcom, which had me thinking, "I can't believe she went there!"

Her mom couldn't wait to show off Cristela's white boyfriend in front of a friend with whom she has a competitive relationship. "Take that, Juanita Canales," she says, "My daughter has a white boyfriend." She goes on to describe the perks of dating someone white:

She's so proud Cristela will be bringing a white guy to the Quinceanera, it's uncomfortable. Of course, my favorite one-liner was probably when the doorbell rings and Cristela says, "That's probably Josh."

Hilarious. But also pointed.

This episode really gave a peak into some of the challenges of race and injustice, and how those can affect a relationship. When Josh is confused by the attention he's receiving, Cristela explains that her mom sees dating a white guy as a status symbol. "You're like an expensive bag!" she tells him.

So often, when parental reactions to interracial dating are discussed, there's an implicit assumption that many parents would feel negatively towards the match. However, there can also be inappropriate enthusiasm. I thought Cristela did a great (and funny) job of illustrating this dynamic.
Have you ever experienced this dynamic in your relationship? Have you seen it play out in other situations?  
GIF Source: Culpepper & Associates

#RaceTogether: More Than Just Awkward

You may or may not have seen Starbucks' new campaign to initiate national conversations about race. The idea, apparently, is for baristas to write #RaceTogether on your coffee and then casually address the challenges of racism and division as they hand it to you. Hmm...

I first saw the campaign on Twitter as many bloggers and thought leaders I respect were responding negatively to the idea. I am often saying we need to speak more openly about race, but something didn't seem quite right to me about this take.

I spent some time thinking about it, and two statements from Jay Smooth in this video helped me figure out what concerns me about #RaceTogether.

Is Sloppy Conversation Better Than No Conversation?

Jay said it this way: "I disagree with the notion that any conversation is better than none when it comes to this topic." That statement hit the nail on the head for me.

Even good race conversations can be painful for those involved, for people of color and also for white folks truly trying to listen and understand. An experienced, skilled trainer can make a huge difference in a conversation like this, transforming it from pain to reconciliation. My guess is that most baristas aren't trained in this area.

But I've also seen how damaging stray conversations about race can be. I've listened to friends of color wrestle through comments made in passing years before. Discussing such a sensitive topic with strangers in such an unusual setting could give some people the "freedom" to say very hurtful things, whether they know it or not.

You Know What Happens When You Assume

The most awkward part of the video is when the other panelist assumes Jay is white and suggests he has co-opted black culture. He responds, "It's also interesting because I'm actually black, but you assumed otherwise. And this is the sort of awkwardness that we can look forward to at Starbucks across America."

It was painfully hilarious. I've written before about my white Latino husband, and some of the comments he's received from both white and Latino folks. I even had my own amusing encounter this week at my predominately black gym. The front desk worker, who is black, was eager to return my card before I told him my name. But when I looked down, it was the photo of one of the other white girls who works out there.

I am still a big believer in conversations about race, but I think we need to step back before we subject everyday people to the assumptions of strangers in coffee shops. I fully support thoughtful discussions on race in schools, churches, and other civic organizations. I believe the media can help us see new perspectives, which is why I try to support shows like Jane the Virgin and Fresh Off the Boat.

Let's hold on to the notion that there are challenges about race that need to be addressed in our society, and we can do a better job. But I can almost guarantee you I will not be discussing it with a Starbucks barista anytime soon.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. I am still reading on this campaign and working through my own thoughts, so yours are most welcome! 

A Better Question Than "What Do You Do?"

I was forced to put together a 100-word bio this week. I felt mildly panicked.

You may know the feeling I'm talking about... sometimes it strikes when someone asks you "What do you do?" It's a conflicting concoction of how do I describe myself mixed with my sense of what's expected tossed with my own feelings about how well my job may or may not introduce me.

Oh, am I overthinking it? Probably.

Still, for many folks, the "What do you do?" question is not the best fit. So I've tried to shift my thinking, especially in cross-cultural conversations. Here's why.

Why I Don't Ask "What do you do?"

"What do you do?" is a very American (U.S.) question. We derive a great deal of identity from our jobs, our titles, or our vocations. It's also just a common ice breaker.

Billy and I had been married for several years when I wondered out loud, "Does your family know what I do for a living?" He shrugged and responded, "I think so."

I couldn't really remember having any extended conversation about my work. But it wasn't because of disinterest in me. Instead, I was always asked, "How are your parents... your sister... your nephews?"

Particularly in relationships that also bridge economic divides, questions about work or jobs can be sensitive. Someone may be struggling to find work, may be underemployed, or may feel their employment lacks prestige.

Of course, these questions may also just seem irrelevant since, in my opinion, many other cultures have better boundaries with work. After all, if your job is a means by which to live your life, wouldn't you rather discuss your life?

A Better Question: "How's your mom?"

We've often hear that other cultures are more family-centric, but I think that orientation plays out in important ways in cross-cultural conversations. Instead of work-focused questions, I'm learning to focus on relationships and family.

It's taken some practice for me. Usually, if I'm talking about your mom, I'm making a yo mamma joke.... because I'm an eleven year old boy. One day my kids will truly appreciate these jokes.

But I'm starting to ask "Do you have family in the area?" "How is your family?"

Remembering details about friends' families is good practice all around. But I think this topic is even more appreciated in multicultural contexts.
What questions are your go-to ice breakers? How do you feel when someone asks what you do?
I promise not to spam you. (I'm not even sure I know how to!) 

Raising Bicultural Kids on Coconut Milk [VIDEO]

While we may muddle through the successes and challenges of raising bilingual kids, I am also very aware of my desire for Gabriella and Isaac to be bicultural. I want them to have a familiarity and a comfort both in the States and their papa's heritage country.

Sometimes that feels hard to do when they spend about two weeks a year in Guatemala. So I love it when Billy starts to talk to Gabriella about how he grew up or things she can enjoy on our next visit.

Enter Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. It's not Billy's favorite book as it's a bit tricky to read in one's second language. But it started some precious father-daughter conversations about coconuts.

Gabriella has been talking about them non-stop. We even had to take photos and video of coconuts when we were in Mexico because Billy couldn't wait to show her.

Here's what she has to say about it:

(Note: If you're reading via email or RSS, you may need to click here to watch the video.)

I just love it. I recently noticed they carry coconut milk at our local Aldi. I almost bought it because, I kid you not, we talk about this all. the. time. But I put it back.

I can't wait for her to drink milk with a straw right out of the coconut. That's something special she'll share with her abuelos and her papi.

And one day, when she reads Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to our grandkids (what???), she'll say, "I grew up drinking coconut milk in Guatemala with my papi."

My Cross-Cultural Marriage Confession

I have a confession to make. Not the one mentioned in the title. This is the pre-confession: Before I met Billy, I didn't like avocado.

I'm not exactly sure what my deal was. The concept of guacamole was the culprit. The slimy texture was a turnoff, and it was green to boot, so I honestly think I'd never tried it. But Billy makes a mean guac, and it was important to him that I try it.

So I did. And it turned out our marriage was totally a good decision.

But I was never into guac, and by extension, avocados. Now I'm all about those bad boys.

However, I'm still not super into the way Billy serves an avocado. He basically cuts it in half and then kinda squeezes it like a lemon while all the avocado smooshes out.

Averting Disaster

So one night, we were having some friends over for dinner, and we wanted to make avocado available as like a topping. You know what I'm saying. But when I saw Billy reach to prepare the avocados, I was all, "No. You cannot get the avocados ready!"

He laughed and was like, "What is happening?"

"You just can't," I confirmed. "You will push it all out into a pile of avocado guts." He's looking at me like I'm crazy. "White people don't eat avocado like that."

He burst out laughing, handed me the avocado, and said, "Okay. How do white people eat avocado?"

I tried to explain. You know... cubes in salad... slices on sandwiches. He just kept laughing at me.

"Fine, you do it," he told me.

So I sliced and I scooped and I imagined myself in the kitchen of a country club. Didn't matter. Once I was finished with the avocado, all I could do was present my haphazard pile of green and laugh. "This," I told him, "is how white people eat avocado."

All in all, our conversation was good-natured and full of amusement, but I have thought about it many times since. What was my deal exactly? Was I worried Billy would embarrass me? Was I really concerned our actually very culturally savvy friends wouldn't be able to understand how to eat avocado not in cubes?

The Truth

My confession is that sometimes I worry too much about Billy "fitting in." Not because I care necessarily, but because I already know some of the ways he feels like an outsider. I know some of the questions he get tired of being asked.

So if I can jump in and dice avocado to prevent any possible moments of being reminded "you do things differently," I instinctively try. In my own crazy ways, I want to help him navigate my cultural world without feeling unsure.

As I tried to explain all this to him, he again looked at me like I'm a crazy person. Of course, poorly slicing avocados doesn't help an immigrant feel more at home.

But I'm certain that if we were living in Latin America and he thought I might be about to embarrass myself, he'd try to intervene. Because he loves me. Because we come from two different cultures, and if we can help the other navigate a little more smoothly, we want to help.

I can tell you one thing, though. Should you come to my house for dinner, regardless of your race, I will not be on avocado prep.

Image credit: Jon Ardern

May I Ask You a Question?

Hi there, friends! How are you?

I have had so much fun with this little blog for the last four years. I am incredibly thankful for the people I've met and the stories we've shared. Seriously. You all are awesome. I am always so grateful for you, visiting this site, leaving comments, and dropping me emails.

Lately, I have been toying with my next steps here on the blog. And I then I thought, there's no better time for a survey! It's been about a year and a half since my last reader survey, and the process is hugely helpful to me as a writer to know who is reading.

I want to create content that is entertaining and helpful for the people visiting. Therefore, I have a few questions I'd like to ask you.  Please, if you're willing, take a few minutes to complete this survey. It means so much to me. Thanks in advance!

Image credit: Ryan Vaarsi

Riding Trains and Chewing Bubble Gum: Thoughts on Child Migration from Which Way Home

"I was watching a documentary while you were out. It's called Which Way Home." 

Of course, my response to Billy's statement was a lot of hand waving and hollering, "Noooooooo! I wanted us to watch that TOGETHER. That's why it's on "My List"!!!!"

He patiently responds, "I figured. That's why I only watched ten minutes and then stopped it. That one's going to make us cry," he predicted.

Oh man. Which Way Home follows a handful of boy migrating north from Mexico and Central America. Their mode of transportation? Riding the trains, also known as "The Beast."

As you can imagine, it was hard to watch. A ten year old crying in a detention center that he hasn't seen his mom or dad in three years. A fourteen year old sharing the horrors he saw while traveling. A mother of three with both legs amputated after an accident on a train. 

The filmmakers allowed the boys to talk about their reasons for traveling and experiences in their home countries. I admit, their conversations were different than I expected, and a few themes stood out to me:

A desire for adventure

I must confess than when I've read about child migrants, I somehow imagine them weighing their options before making the difficult decision to travel North. Did I forget these are primarily adolescent boys? 

There was almost an innocent boyishness in their decision making. Let's go on an adventure! Let's go to the United States! And they hopped on trains with the clothes on their backs while this mama is muttering, "What an ill-conceived plan..."

A longing for family

I was deeply struck by the family challenges these particular boys were already facing a home, feeling unwanted and abandoned. Some felt rejected or ignored by their families, so they felt the need to leave. Noticeably, several children had parents who had left for the States many years before. They were naturally following in their footsteps, seeking to know their fathers and mothers. 

Misguided expectations

Several of these teenage boys spoke about their hope to be adopted when they arrived to the States, revealing a lack of understanding of the immigration experience. Of course, they also had Hollywood-induced expectations that were unrealistic of life in the States.  

Lack of gang violence

The film, as I recall, did not mention violence or gangs in the boys' home countries at all. This seems interesting to me since so much has been said about its influence on child migration. I ask myself if the filmmakers chose to leave out that angle, if it just wasn't part of these particular boys' stories, or if it has been overhyped as a powerful influence. 

However, I couldn't help but compare boys who make this journey with young men who enter gang life. There was some similar challenges as these youth felt they had no future, they craved a place of belonging, and they were willing to take high risks. 

These were some of my take aways from Which Way Home. To dive into the topic more, I've been talking with a friend who works with migrant youth about an interview for the blog. You can keep your eyes out for that coming later this month!

Have you seen this documentary? What did you think?

When Children Translate

Driving to church with my sister and my nephew, I asked Gabriella, "In your class, does the teacher speak English or Spanish?"

"Spanish," she told me. 

"Okay. Well, if she's speaking in Spanish, you may need to tell Sammy what's going on, ok?"

"Okay, mom."

As we walked down the steps after the children had been dismissed from the service, Gabriella repeated her mission back to me. "If the teacher is talking in Spanish, I'll tell Sammy what's going on."

It was a bizarre moment to me. My little four-year old, a translator. Now, in reality, I'm not totally convinced of two things: 1) that the teachers speak to the class in Spanish and 2) that Ella could translate for another person if the need arose. But really, those details are beside the point.

As we raise our little bridge builders, these bicultural kids who can connect with different groups, it struck me how normal this all seemed to her. Of course she would help her cousin with language if needed! The same way she might grab Isaac's diaper out of the drawer for me or find him a toy to play with. 

Kids are helpers. And if they have cross-cultural skills, they will naturally offer those to help others along the way. It's really beautiful to watch. 

Still, I think about children who translate for their parents out of necessity. I know that this gift of bilingualism can also feel burdensome at times.

But as I watched my little wanna be translator, it made me just want to give a shout out to all the kids rocking two languages and translating for those they love in their life. What a gift you have to share in the world!

As a mom, it brings me such joy and makes me so proud to watch. And I want to say thank you for using your skills, whether they feel like a burden or a blessing in any given moment, to help others. You are awesome!
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