A Few of My Favorite Things {August 2015}

As August says good-bye, I find myself holding on for dear life. Oh, how I love summer! And even though fall in Atlanta is glorious, it always feels so fast. And winter is simply not my jam.

So I want to white knuckle summer lest I find myself wearing a coat and gloves next week. (I'm not dramatic at all, by the way.)

But I also feel more sentimental than normal this year. We sent Gabriella off to Pre-K. (See obligatory 'first day of school' pic above), and I'm acutely aware that "kindergarten applications" start in January (Jesus, take the wheel!).

This time next year, we'll be all in till she's graduated high school. And I'm not ready. Which is fine because I've still got a year. But also weird because I was ready two years ago. Maybe I'm just perfectly content and by next fall we'll be sharpening pencils with glee.

But before summer goes, here are some of the favs from August!

Favorite Accomplishment

Gabriella learned to swim this summer! She is currently floatie-free and loves to tell anyone who will listen about her baller status.

Billy started working with her, taking her to the indoor pool in the evenings and letting her practice. She'll get no points for style, but she can jump in, bob up, and then doggie paddle her way to the edge. Just enough to prevent a repeat of last year's "Mom, I was dribbling down!!"

Her main thrill, though? She's now a strong enough swimmer to go down the big slide at the pool. It was only a couple of tries before she turned and said, "Mom, I don't want you to go with me this time." [tear] Then she came down backwards on her belly. So there you go.

Favorite TV

Well, this month has been all about that One Tree Hill. Thank you, Netflix, for letting me relive my high school days with these two, basketball-playing half-brothers.

It's a series full of love and heartbreak, frenemies, and psychos trapping you in a basement on prom night. I'm sure we can all relate!

Favorite Time Saver

Did you know you can buy stamps on Amazon? I'll never inconvenience a post office employee again! (Is that just me? It's like I'm always rudely cutting in on something else they were planning on doing.)

But seriously, I bought them via the USPS website before, but they charge you shipping. (Really? I mean, you're already coming to my house!) Also, I can never remember my "unique login." So there's that.

Favorite Instagram

I mean. I can't handle the cuteness.

Favorite Books

Got some goodies for you this month! I wrote in August about The Good Shufu and The Book of Unknown Americans. But I also read and enjoyed Everything I Never Told You.

The book is about a cross-cultural couple who loses a daughter to mysterious circumstances. The book is less "whodoneit" and more a nuanced portrait of a complicated family.

My girl crush Jen Hatmaker came out with her new book For the Love this month. I'm about halfway through and loving it fully. It includes gems like, "Sometimes you have to break out the running man when a Vanilla Ice song plays." So true.

All the Links

Here's a few favorite links I shared this month:
(Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for all the links throughout all the month!)

Which Food Riley Hates Depends In 'Inside Out' Depends On Whether You Saw It In The U.S. Or Not - Some interesting changes movie makers create in films so they will be more relatable internationally.

The Way Couples Tell Their 'How We Met' Stories Speaks Volumes - I love a good "how we met" story, so I gobbled up this article.

Mindy Kaling's Guide to Killer Confidence - She's a hard worker Mindy. And I appreciate what she has to say about going for it. (I'm also excited about her new book!)

Trumped-Up Charges - This article is vital for congregations. It asks the question "Who's defining your church's reputation toward Immigrants?" and offers Biblical insight.

Taking My Parents to College - I loved this honest and endearing story from a first-gen college student.

And here are some posts on A Life with Subtitles that readers enjoyed:

The Best Multicultural Parenting Advice I Ever Received - These words from a multicultural kid grown up into a multicultural adult floored me, and I have played them back in my mind many times.

The Unexpected Benefit of a Kid Who's Not Bilingual Enough - I'd love to think that my kids are equally fluent in both languages, but that's simply not true. But maybe there's something to be learned there.

What's the Deal with Birthright Citizenship? [Interview] - Everybody's talking about it. Here's some history and insight with a Christian perspective to boot!

As always, gracias Leigh Kramer for hosting this link-up. What was your favorite part of August?

5 Lessons I've Learned Trying To Be A Good Guatemalan Wife

One of my favorite blogs is Texan in Tokyo by Grace. She shares comics, videos, and blog posts about her life in Japan. She is from Texas, and her hubby is Japanese.

We may be in a culturally different marriage, but I'm amazed by all the ways I can relate to her experiences. There's something about living and marrying across cultures that is a shared experience, regardless of specific country.

I'm am over the moon to write for Grace today about 5 Lessons I've Learned Trying To Be A Good Guatemalan Wife. Here's a sneak peak:

When I was dating my Guatemalan now-husband Billy, our cultural differences seemed relegated to mixed up idioms and mismatched passports. I would read to him over the phone in my terrible Spanish, while he told me how beautifully I spoke and how adorable I was. And he would do things like show me how to drink Coke out of a plastic bag like they do in some Guatemalan tiendas (convenient stores).

We got married and shared our life together in the States. Then it wasn’t long before I was trying to convince Billy to go pick apples in the fall and he was like, “What is happening right now? Why would we go pay to do manual labor for fun?”

We’ve continued to discover all the funny and interesting ways our cultural differences influence our life, our marriage, and our parenting. Here are a few of my favorite lessons I’ve learned trying to be a good Guatemalan wife!

What's the Deal with Birthright Citizenship? [INTERVIEW]

Immigration has been in the news a lot lately. Have you noticed? Goodness gracious. Well, you may have heard chatter about "birthright citizenship" after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced he wants to do away with the practice.

So what is "birthright citizenship" anyway? How'd the U.S. come to adopt it? And what does it mean to think about it going away?

Well, whenever I want to cut through all the noise and find out what's going on in the world of immigration, I turn to my friend Matthew Soerens. He is co-author of the book Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate, and he works with World Relief, helping U.S. churches consider a Biblical approach to immigration.

Matt is wicked smart and totally humble, so I highly recommend following him on Twitter for all the insights. He was gracious enough to let me interview him, and his responses were jam-packed with so much good info, I'm going to share it in more than one post.

For today, he offers some history and perspective on birthright citizenship. I hope you find the responses helpful as we navigate this topic in the public sphere.

Q: Can you tell us exactly what is birthright citizenship?

Matt: Birthright citizenship basically means that if you are born within the United States, you are a U.S. citizen. (Technically, children of diplomats, who are not subject to U.S. law, are a very tiny exception.) It’s why, throughout the last century, a birth certificate has been sufficient to establish that a person was a citizen, even if one or both of their parents was present in the country unlawfully.

Q: How did birthright citizenship come to be in the U.S.?

Matt: The U.S. has always practiced birthright citizenship, which goes back to the common law practice of jus soli, meaning that citizenship is based on the soil on which one is born, not on a child’s parentage. A number of other countries—mostly in the Western Hemisphere—also practice birthright citizenship, but it is no longer common in most of Europe.

This principle was challenged in the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision, which found that children born to African slaves were themselves property and thus could not be citizens. The 14th amendment, ratified shortly after the Civil War, overruled that decision, stating clearly that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”  

At the time, there was no such thing as illegal immigration because all migration to the U.S. was legal. (For my fellow Americans of European descent whose ancestors came long ago, we may want to reflect on that before bragging about the moral superiority of our ancestors who “came the legal way.”)

But, after the Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882, making basically all migration from China illegal, the question of how the 14thamendment would apply in this circumstance was considered directly in the 1898 case of Wong Kim Ark. It was determined that, despite his Chinese heritage, a child born in San Francisco was indeed a citizen.

The U.S. government has recognized birthright citizenship ever since.

Q: Why is this practice coming into question now?

Matt: Mr. Trump stated last week that he thinks not only that this shouldn’t be the law of the land, but that, according to “some very, very good lawyers,” it actually isn’t the law of the land. He suggests we have been misinterpreting the 14th amendment for the past century and a half.

But nearly every legal scholar, including the most conservative, agrees that he and the unnamed lawyers he cited are just wrong. To end birthright citizenship would require a Constitutional amendment, which would necessitate the ratification of the legislatures of 38 of the 50 states. That is incredibly unlikely on this particular question.

Q: What is the benefit of birthright citizenship?

Matt: My own opinion is that, even if it were politically possible, overturning birthright citizenship would be a terrible idea. Birthright citizenship is vital to immigrant integration. It means that, within a generation, immigrants are Americans. In many parts of Europe, there is sharp hostility between the children and grandchildren of immigrants and the society that surrounds them, precisely because they are kept marginalized.

The U.S. is somewhat unique (and blessed) in that to be “American” is not an ethnic description. Conversely, for example, someone in France or Germany of African origin is not likely to be viewed as French or German—or to view themselves that way—even generations after their ancestors migrated.

Q: How does your faith inform your perspective on this issue?

Matt: From a Christian perspective, I think birthright citizenship honors the biblical principle of not punishing a child for their parents’ actions (see Deuteronomy 24:16, Ezekiel 18:20). It allows a child the full opportunities of living in the U.S. regardless of his or her parents’ legal status.

Q: How does birthright citizen impact immigrants who arrive here unlawfully?

Matt: Some presume that birthright citizenship confers a legal benefit on the parents of a child born here. While such parents do get the satisfaction that their child is likely to have many more opportunities than they themselves did, they usually do not benefit directly, at least in the short term.

For example, if I entered the country unlawfully from Mexico and had a child, I would still be undocumented. My child could not petition for me to have legal status until she was at least twenty-one years old.

Even then, I could only receive a green card if I left the U.S. and waited abroad for ten years as a punishment for having been present unlawfully. (Waivers are available in some cases, but only if I have a U.S. citizen spouse or parent. Child’s citizenship alone is insufficient to even apply for an exception.)

The idea that undocumented people are having babies so that—thirty-one years later—they might qualify for legal status seems far-fetched to me.

I'm thankful to Matt for unpacking birthright citizenship for us. Check back next week for Part 2 of this interview where we touch on the current political climate and ways Christians can stand up for immigrants. 

Image Credit: TiggerT

7 Things You May Not Know About A Life with Subtitles

It was in August about four years ago that I started writing regularly at A Life with Subtitles. Now, it's got over 400 posts, which is somewhat shocking to me. In a moment of sentimentality, I thought I'd share 7 things you may not know about this blog.

#1 - Choosing a blog name took me forever.

Like... forever. I think we've established I'm a terrible decision maker. But I am a superb list maker. And naming this blog involved pages upon pages of lists. I wrote words and phrases... a lot of them involving mangoes for some reason.

But nothing mango-related made the final cut. Eventually, I settled on Life with Subtitles. But that domain name was taken. Thus, the "A."

#2 - A lot of those first posts were written in a dark, silent room.

I started creating my blog on my maternity leave with Gabriella. We moved to Buenos Aires when she was 3 months old - into an efficiency apartment. Not a one bedroom, mind you. Just one room for the three of us.

And you know how much babies sleep. Well, theoretically. Gabriella was a terrible sleeper, so we couldn't risk waking her at all... while we lived in the same room.

So we sat in the dark after 7pm each night not talking at all. After it was confirmed she was asleep, I would occasionally watch TV two inches from the screen with the volume at four. But mostly, I sat in my loft bed and typed in the dark.

#3 - I never intended to write our love story.

One of the longest and most popular series on the site started on a whim. Many of my favorite blogs about multicultural family included a "How I Met My Husband" post.

I noticed how much I loved these stories and thought, "Oh, I should write ours, even though it's kinda boring." But then it kept getting longer and more complicated and including immigration, and it kinda evolved from there.

#4 - Each month I write a secret post.

For the longest time, subscribers to my email list received every post in their inbox. You can still do that, but I also wanted to do something that was less frequent for folks who want to stay in touch but don't want a couple emails from me a week.

So I created my email "newsletter," which is basically a special, highly classified, super secret blog post only for subscribers. Past emails have ranged in topic from hilarious bilingual encounters between my daughter and my suegra to updates on my book writing to how I avoid being murdered when my family is out of town. All things you want to know!

The August edition will go out later this week, and I'm writing up my most awkward good-bye kissing experience to date. (I'm sure I will outdo myself at some point.) But it was almost like I never even wrote "The Guide." I'm pretty sure it involves me screaming in public. So if you want to get in on that goodness, you can join my monthly "newsletter" list here.

#5 - Maybe American girls are weirdly smelly.

For the longest time, Why Are American Girls So Smelly? was one of my most read posts. Apparently, it really resonated with people. It also got a surprising amount of Google search traffic. I guess this is a question that many people Google.

#6 - People on the internet call me names.

I should have known that writing about immigration would bring some *big feelings* my way. But I still don't like it.

The first time someone was mean to me on the Internet, I believe, was a stranger on my Facebook profile calling me a "bleeding heart low life." Amusingly, he made some comment about maybe if I had to have an illegal immigrant living in my house and eating my food, I'd feel differently. And I thought, "Clearly, you haven't read much of my blog."

#7 - I have started dabbling in a little partnering.

Billy recently mocked the eight empty cans of sparkling water on my nightstand. Everyone knows about my sparkling water obsession because when I get into something, I like to talk about it. I have people texting me photos and tagging me on Instagram when drinking it. Seriously, I should get a kick back from the sparkling water people.

I recently connected with a retailer online, and I was so excited I emailed her and was all "I think my blog readers would love this! We should partner!" I have been tip toeing into the world of blog advertising, but wanting to do it very carefully. I don't want clutter on the site, and I really only want to highlight products and organizations that our little band of multicultural family people would genuinely like.

But after I emailed with this shop, I discovered she also reads my blog. And I wondered, "Who else out there has something really awesome that I should be sharing?" And so, if you didn't know, there are details for advertising with A Life with Subtitles. I think it could be fun!

I don't write about blogging itself all that often, but I thought I'd stray from the norm today and give a little behind-the-scenes look. This blog is so fun for me, and I love the people I meet and the stories I've heard because of it. Thanks for reading!

Got any blog-related questions? Feel free to ask in the comments!

5 U.S. Culture Quirks That Drive My Husband Bonkers

Living in another country can be tricky. And while we adjust in so many ways, there may also be those little things we never quite understand, or "get."

I recently started listing those moments that always cause my husband to throw his hands in the air and ask, "What is going on?" It's amusing to see your own culture through someone else's lens.

Here are a few quirks that stand out in my memory:

#1 - Wet Wall Art

Spaghetti is a go-to easy meal. For as long as I can remember, I have always tested to see if the noodles were cooked by tossing one onto the wall. If it sticks, we're good to go! (You can see a video we made here.)

Billy was stunned when he first saw me do this. Now, I also usually forget to take it down, which he also finds problematic, but hello... the spaghetti is ready!

This one, though, I'm curious about... is this really a common cooking trick in the U.S.? Or is this "weird Sarah"? Seriously, does anyone else do this?

#2 - Acronyms

The U.S. loves acronyms. I mean... we are the U.S.A. after all. It's in our DNA. Just this week, multiple people happened to mention ITP and OTP, which is basically an Atlanta-specific rivalry between the entire metro area.

But I never realized how often we use acronyms until Billy started laughing and constantly questioning. What is POTUS? What is FYI? What is ASAP? Even still, he thinks they make more sense in an email than when people are talking. Mostly, I just crack up now every time I hear one.

#3 - Needing a License

When we were dating, Billy was shocked to discover I've never been water skiing. "I'll take you," he assured me. "I know how to drive a boat."

"Umm... do you have a license for that?" I asked.

"What?" he was astounded. "I'm telling you. I know how to drive a boat."

"Yep. That's not going to cut it."

The U.S. is a heavily documented society. And I see some of the value in that setup. But Guatemala... not so much. So Billy is still getting used to the ideas of everything needing an official license.

#4 - Doggie Bags

No, I'm not talking about taking home restaurant leftovers. I'm talking about the first time Billy saw someone collect their dog's waste in a plastic baggie, and he nearly flipped out.

But living in the city, dog poop picker-uppery is pretty much the social norm. And I will say, after living in Buenos Aires, where people don't really do that, I see the benefit. But I also understand (and relate to) the disgust.

#5 - The Social Calendar

"Would you like to have dinner with us in two weeks?" I don't know if Billy will ever fully come around to the scheduling of advance social engagements. His philosophy is pretty much if they want to have dinner, why don't they stop by tonight?

I will admit his perspective sometimes gives me tiny heart palpitations, though they have significantly diminished over our marriage. But he has really taught me about the beauty of spontaneous, comfortable friendship. Even if it means showing up at a party to which we did not receive an invitation. (Just remembering that makes me start to sweat.)

As life has gotten busier with kids and jobs and dentist appointments, we have moved more towards scheduling get-togethers. And I even got Billy sharing a Google calendar with me to improve our quality of life. So I think we've met somewhere in the middle on this one.  

So those are a few quirks of U.S. culture that make us giggle. Can you relate to any of these? Do you have any to add?

[VIDEO] Raising Multilingual Kids

Did you ever play the game "Telephone" as a kid? One person whispers and sentence into the second person's ear. Then, they whisper what they heard to the third person and so on and so on. Before you know it, "We love to vacation in Spain" turns into "We always eat tacos when it's raining."

Multicultural Kid Blogs is hosting a Vlogging Telephone, which (thankfully!) is much less confusing. A community of bloggers is all recording video blogs, answering different questions on the topic of "Raising Multilingual Kids." 

I'm kicking things off today over on their site. Naturally, I recorded my video with Gabriella. 


The Unexpected Benefit of a Kid Who's Not Bilingual Enough

We recently met a little boy who doesn't speak English.

I also met his parents and wielded all my Spanglish to introduce myself and mumble something like, "Oh, I don't really speak Spanish. My husband is from Guatemala."

Then, I introduced my daughter - the bilingual one. Except I know that's not true.

I wasn't trying to oversell her skills, but I was aware that of the other people present in that moment, she knew the most Spanish. And I wanted this little boy to feel less alone.

I talked to Gabriella about befriending him, trying to translate if needed. She looked at me and simply said, "I don't want to do that. And I only know Spanish a little bit."

She's right. While I never expected her to be a fluent translator, I was surprised to see her pulling back from helping someone. And there's this tight rope we walk as parents between pushing too hard or not guiding enough. So I sat with her declaration for a little bit.

Later, in the car, I brought it up again. And I asked her a question. "Do you remember how you feel when you're in Guatemala and all the cousins are speaking Spanish? And it's hard because you don't always understand what's going on?"

"Yes," she answered.

And there it was. Something I'd never considered before when raising bilingual kids. And maybe more correctly, bilingual kids who are limited in their second language. Empathy.

She knows what it feels like to be left out. To hear words and sounds and syllables but their meaning is just out of reach. She knows how helpful it is to have someone translate, talk more slowly, or act out their meaning.

"That's how that little boy might have felt. Everyone was speaking English, and he might have needed a friend or a little bit of help."

"Okay," she told me. "I can do that."

That little moment of recognition. She could remember what it feels like to be in a similar situation. And it scooted open that little door of compassion. My own heart was blessed in the process.

For When You Need A Great Novel About Immigrants

This summer I have done a lot of reading. At least, it's a lot more than I've read in the recent past. I loved The Good Shufu and just finished The Maze Runner on Audible. Currently, I'm halfway through Everything I Never Told You. And while at the beach, I read The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez. 

Since this last one focused on immigrant stories, I thought you might enjoy it, too.

The Book of Unknown Americans is set in an apartment building in Delaware. The residents all hail from Central and South America. Each chapter is narrated by a different tenant and unfolds their unique immigration experiences and the ways they've connected in their new home.

Several characters lead multiple chapters, and the driving story is the relationship between two families, particularly their teenagers. Yes, there's a little love story brewing, which I'm always a sucker for!

One reviewer on Amazon wrote, "It just seemed a bit too YA." They said this as a critic, but in my book, there is no higher compliment. Is there any other genre?

I particularly appreciated the nuance of the immigration stories. Many different countries are represented, as well as different journeys to arrive at this apartment complex. Everyone also has a unique perspective about their own experience, which felt more authentic to me and the immigrant stories I've heard.

Henríquez does not seem to be pushing an agenda with the novel. But as the reality of the immigrant experience is told through their own voices, it's hard not to feel compassion.

It's truly a beautiful story, and a quick read. I only have one caution. Why did I think a novel about immigrants would be a good beach read? There was definitely a moment when I was reading and crying while sitting by the pool.

Still, it was a good one, and if you're looking for a new book, check out The Book of Unknown Americans. And a little bonus? The author started a Tumblr for folks to share their own stories. You can read those here.

LIKE TO READ? Check out some of my other favorite multicultural books here.

Have you read The Book of Unknown Americans? What did you think? What was your favorite summer read? (I always need new books!)


14 GIFs Only Parents Flying with Young Children Will Understand

Before my daughter was one year old, she's seen an airplane seat belt demonstration 11 times. She was very accustomed to boarding and deplaning. For us, we may have been well-practiced, but that didn't mean our escapades were stress-free.

Here's a few emotions we experienced. Maybe you can relate?

#1. When you need your toddler to relinquish liquids before security.

#2. When TSA tells you to "hurry it up" while you're herding your little cats through the line.

#3. Or when they need to pat down your baby.

#4. When you're trying to collapse a stroller (while holding your baby) to go through the x-ray machine.

#5. When your flight gets delayed.

#6. Let's not even talk about a plane delayed on the tarmac.

#7. When you realize a stranger will be sharing the row with your family.

#8. When someone slams the overhead compartment above a sleeping baby.

#9. When your kids kick the seat or play with the hair of the person in front of you.

#10. When your kids actually play with the creative/quiet/educational activities you packed.

#11. When people give you dirty looks because your baby is crying.

#12. And you realize you've got a "Code Brown."

#13. And those airplane bathrooms are no joke.

#14. When you walk out of that little tunnel into the terminal.

High fives to all the parents traveling with kiddos. You are rockstars!

Thanks to Giphy for making all my gif dreams come true!

[Interview + Giveaway] The Good Shufu

This summer I came across the book The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World by Tracy Slater. When my pre-ordered copy arrived in the mail, I shared a pic on social media. Some of you asked for a review once I was finished.

Well, I devoured the story in a couple of days, basically sitting my children in front of the TV so I could read. (#momwin) But I was swept into the love story, and I was drawn into Tracy's reflections on gender, place, language, and so much more that the book explores.

So that's my quick review - loved it! And I'm not the only one. The Good Shufu is a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, and it's been ranking #1 on Amazon in Japanese Travel.

Then I got wild and crazy and contacted Tracy for an interview. She graciously agreed, so I'm delighted to share our conversation with you! And at the end of the post, I'm offering a giveaway of The Good Shufu just for fun. Enjoy!

Q: There were times throughout the book you mentioned how your two different languages were actually less of a communication barrier and actually served to strengthen your relationship in some ways. Could you share a little about that?

Tracy: I'm not surprised you're leading off with this question! It's actually the thing people seem to be both most interested in and surprised about in hearing about my relationship with Toru. In fact, it's one thing that caught me totally off guard, too. I never thought I'd marry a man with whom I don't share a fluent language, nor that I would come to appreciate this part of my relationship so much.

But being with Toru has taught me that when you are forced to keep communication to a simpler level, sometimes the bond becomes more pure, less complicated. Especially for someone like me, for whom, analyzing everything sometimes gets me into trouble. With my past boyfriends - all native speakers - when they didn't "get" me, I took it as some kind of profound sign of incompatibility, some kind of harbinger of doom.

But really, two people fail to "get" each other a lot, regardless of their language. And because Toru did't speak much English when I met him (and still isn't perfectly fluent), and I spoke no Japanese (and still don't speak much now), I found those gaps in understanding much less threatening, and I continue to do so most of the time.

Q: In your own decisions between living in Boston or in Japan, you mentioned that you also recognized you loved Toru in Japan. Personally, I find I see my husband much more "himself" when he's in his country. Could you share a little bit about the ways your relationship is also tied to place?

Tracy: Honestly, I think being in Japan has allowed us to have a more traditionally gendered relationship in a way that might be problematic for both of us if we lived in my country. In Japan, Toru takes care of me, and he needs to, because I'm so limited in what I can do alone. I'm not a woman who would have ever given myself permission, in my own country, to be so dependent on another, or to admit maybe how much I want to be taken care of in some ways.

It's as if Japan provided the perfect excuse. I feel mixed about this truth, but I also believe that context shapes so much of who we are in ways I never realized before I shifted my life overseas, so I think it's pretty human to have your personality change a bit depending on where you are, even though that seems surprising.

I guess I'm also ok at base with this because we lived together in the US for almost a year and still had a really strong bond there, so I have some assurance that Japan isn't necessarily what makes our relationship work and that we can deal with whatever might become more problematic in terms of gender roles and our own identities when we are in the U.S.

Also, this multicultural marriage and life has helped me learn how to, or at least that it's OK to, balance the many conflicting sides of myself, conflicting sides I think a lot of women can relate to: that you can be both strong and independent in some ways and still want to be taken care of, and still even like being able to depend on, another at the same time.

Q: I loved the exploration of gender norms and how you experienced them given your academic background in women's studies. This was a fascinating theme throughout the book. Could you give those who haven't yet read it a sneak preview of the ways you've incorporated more traditional gender roles into your lifestyle and how that's been for you? 

Tracy: As I alluded to before, this is another paradox I never expected and that some people find surprising (as even I still do sometimes when I stop to think about it!). But the fact that my life as a “shufu” or housewife, or at least my life doing housewifely things, takes place in Japan, in a world so different from my own native one, provides a kind of barrier from what might otherwise be threatening to me, because it feels so contained by geographical and cultural distances from my native “home.”

Especially with Toru’s father, cooking dinner and serving him tea and bowing to him and cleaning up afterwards, as I used to do at least 3 nights a week when he was still alive, all felt like a role I was playing out of respect for someone very dear to me, but someone who nevertheless came from a very different place than the one that “made” me. I even feel this sometimes still with Toru (minus the bowing, of course, which is definitely where I draw the line in a marriage!). It’s a kind of compartmentalization that perhaps some might question. But it works.

And I think all marriages, all close relationships really, work in part because of a certain level of compartmentalization. We all, to some extent, try to bring the most harmonious parts of ourselves into our relationships in different ways and figure out how to express the other parts elsewhere or in other contexts.

I don't really think the compartmentalization is the problem; it's when you're not honest or open about it that I think it becomes problematic usually. But even if this isn’t the case, and it’s just me who has welcomed a certain level of compartmentalization into my own home and marriage, I’m ok with that. Because as I said, it works, and I'm grateful for that.

Q: What inspired you to write a memoir about your relationship?

Tracy: I don't think it's my specific relationship itself that inspired me, really, but what I learned from it that I think relates to so many people's lives and that I hope, in my telling of the story of my multicultural marriage, might help others or at least give them something to think about as they navigate the murky or new or confusing parts of their own lives or relationships.

I've said this elsewhere, but I'll say it again here, because it's what I most hope people can take away from the book, apart from just enjoying and hopefully getting swept up in the story. I hope people who are facing paths very different from the ones they ever planned on following, find some level of comfort or reassurance in the book, some hint that sometimes we can give up or swerve off of our strict plan and end up right where we are supposed to be. 

Marrying a Japanese salaryman, moving to his country, giving up much of my life as a fiercely independent Boston academic, and becoming essentially an illiterate housewife in Japan—these were all pretty much diametrically opposed to what I’d always planned and even hoped for myself. But this is the path where I found the greatest love, security, and even sense of rootedness I’ve ever known. 

As I write in the book, I learned that you can’t properly find yourself until you let yourself get lost in the first place. I spent much of my adult life, before Toru, doing everything I could not to get lost. And in the end, getting lost was what I needed most in order to find the life that fit me the best (or a life that fits me really well, at least). This is a lesson I'm still relying on, actually, as I navigate new motherhood i my late 40s in a foreign land! But more on that in the next book, I hope!

I'm so grateful to Tracy for her time and for sharing a peak behind the scenes of her writing and life! For a little added fun, I'm giving away a copy of The Good Shufu. (Update: Giveaway ended August 13, 2015.) 

LIKE TO READ? Check out some of my other favorite multicultural books here.


The Best Multicultural Parenting Advice I Ever Received

Her parents were from two different countries. Two different religions. Two different languages. Two different worldviews. "They gave me every opportunity," she tells me. "I experienced both of my heritage cultures. I participated in both. I wasn't pushed to one or the other."

And then she said, "Discovering my identity has still been hard."

Those words have bounced around in my brain for years. The reality is I don't want them to be true.

I want to believe I can make life easier for my kids. If I raise my kids bilingual. If I expose them to their U.S. and Guatemalan roots. If we visit their Papi's home country. If we talk openly about race, privilege, and heritage.

Maybe then they will slide effortlessly into a mature, bicultural identity. They can explain with clarity and conviction their connection to two worlds.

I want them shrug it off when people tell them they're too white to be Latino. That they don't "count."

I want them to identify with both of their heritage countries - as well as their own mashup version - with ease and joy.

Then words echo in my mind: "My parents did all the right things, and discovering my identity has still been hard."

And then I must acknowledge the process of understanding my own racial, religious, and cultural identity. Even as part of the majority culture in my context, discovering my identity has been hard.

It was painful to recognize injustices of the past and present. It wasn't easy to acknowledge the ways my own background influences how I see and interpret the world. And it's not always clear how to expand my cultural lenses and support others in meaningful ways.

The reality is that most of us - usually somewhere in our 20's - have a bit of identity deconstruction. And it's not really all that fun. And for multicultural kids, I imagine it can feel a bit lonely as their journey may look different from those around them.

As much as I want to, I can't necessarily make that process disappear for my kids. I can still hope that the tools we try to offer them - language, experiences, cultural fluency - will come in handy.

I am thankful for that conversation. It has truly been the best multicultural parenting advice I've ever heard, even if that wasn't the intention.

Those words "it's still been hard" have reminded me that there is no "perfect" way to raise my multicultural kiddos. There will be bumps and there will be questions they have to wrestle with on their own.

Part of life is working through the big questions. And though it may feel hard sometimes, I hope they know we are here to walk with them as they discover who they are and the uniqueness God has instilled in them.

Image credit: 55Laney69
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