American Me

 
Recently, I was having a conversation with my spouse about identity designations. The conversation went something like this,
 
“Why are people using Latinx? Why don’t you guys just use Latin instead and omit the need for X?” He assumed that Latin was gender neutral.
 
A brief history of Latin
 
According to Dictionary.com, Latin is a word with three meanings. First, it refers to the official language of the Roman Empire. Second, it identifies the forms of literary Latin- Medieval, Late, Biblical, Liturgical or Vulgar. Finally, it identifies natives or inhabitants of Latium or ancient Rome.
 
Napoleon III coined the term “Latin America” in the early 1900s. It aligned the countries of the American continent where Latin-based languages were spoken. This was important for the French. The goal? To align “Latin-Americans” with “Latin Europe” against “Slavic,” and “Teutonic Europe” as well as against “Anglo Saxon America.” More relevant, by changing the prior description of Hispanic America, it could increase France’s role in the region. This would enable France to invade Mexico and install Maximilian I as its emperor in 1861.
 
So back to my husband’s question, why don’t I call myself a Latin Because I do not connect myself to ancient Rome. But, I do identify myself as Latina, Latinx or Latino-Americana, so why distinguish?
 
In the US, Latinos were not identified differently from whites prior to this time period. This is not to say there was no discrimination against people of Latinx descent. In the US, social movements sought to increase the voices of minority groups in the 1960s and 1970s. To identify the needs of Spanish (here I use it to mean the language) people, a special designation was needed.
 
By the 1990s when I was growing up, Latino-Americano was part of the vernacular. I embrace it because it aligns me with women who have similar life experiences, even if their families aren’t from Mexico. And, I believe that hate reduces when we see ourselves in others. Can you imagine what it would mean for “White America” to realize that the term “American” is not exclusive to them? Imagine if they realized that the term includes all the people living between Denali and Del Fuego? Such a realization would change our society.
How do you identify? Why?
 

Mama Didn’t Mean That Honey…

Words matter. Words have the power to embolden and empower. They also have the power to destroy and denigrate. This is especially true with children. It is important to contemplate the words we say to children. And, people who want to be decent parents try. We stay away from language that will brow-beat, disregard, or mistreat our children. We forgo frustrated statements that will scar children in years to come.  

I pondered the hidden messages that children may hear in or between our words. Communication is a two person activity. It is not only the intention of the speaker that matters. Interpersonal communication requies listeners to interpret the message. I have contemplated the benign words we use that unintentionally impact children. I came up with three types I wish to explore.

Unsaid Statements

Sometimes, we communicate positions and expectations to our children without even knowing. Most often these unsaid statements are due to defaulting to assuming the status quo. Contemplate the following example:

A young man embarking upon high school is nervous about dating. His parents tell him that he is a smart and handsome young man and any girl would be lucky to date him.

If the young man in question is gay then our affirming statement may create the wrong impression. He may now assume that his parents demand heterosexual behavior from him. The young man may feel rejection of who he is. Instead, his parents intended their words to be supportive of his likability.

This is tough because the parents may not have a problem with whom their son chooses to love. They may not expect him to default to a status quo relationship. But, he know assumes that; unnecessarily so. Language conventions need words have specific meanings which distinguish them from other words.

As my son has reached high school, I have tried to work outside of the status quo. When he has felt bad about himself, I remind him that any person would be lucky to date him. I have said, “once you meet a boy or girl you like.”

To which he replied, “oh mama.”

“I want to make sure you understand that who you like will not impact how much I like you.” I said and walked away.

Blanket Statements

Blanket statements, overgeneralization, stereotypes. All these words fall under the logical fallacy known as hasty generalizations. Hasty generalizations are statements without adequate supporting evidence. Hasty generalizations illicit assumption, stereotyping, unwarranted conclusion, overstatement, or exaggeration. I know all this because I took too many philosophy classes in college. And yet.. I find myself committing the fallacy of hasty generalization with my own child. Like, always. (see what I did there?)

When I make blanket statements to my son they usually have to do with house chores and begin like “You Never…” or “You always forget….”

It may feel like he never does X or always forgets to do Y. Those all or nothing words serve to undermine the impact of the message. Even if there were truth to such a statements, how does stating that truth help you get the result you want? I posit that it does not.

Young people justify actions when situations seem hopeless. And negative thinking can lead to future negative actions. Thus, we must prove that for every problem there is a solution.

“She never notices when I do things right anyway.”

As parents the key to raising children that think like you is to make them want to emulate or please you. When we act with good and maintain high self-expectations, children will rise to our level. To this end, I am going to change my words. When I want to say,

“You always forget to throw out the trash.”

Instead, I am going to try to say,

“I do not like it when you forget to throw out the trash.”

Regrettable Statements

The final type of statement to curb are the statements we make that we later regret. I have been guilty of it. I am horrified to think about the number of times that I may said something that I should not have said to my child. I suffer from foot-in-mouth disease because I am temperamental and impetuous. A dangerous combination.

I do not have any examples for statements in this section. Because I cannot think of any now. And, likely because it is too embarrassing to recall the ugly words I may have said to my sweet stepson. But, I have begun to develop a technique for lessening the number of time that “Amada Piranha” rears her ugly head. (And yes, my bite can be so sharp that my family’s nickname for me is in fact, “Amada Piranha.”)

When you feel those ugly words making their way out of your mouth. Bite down. Cover your lips with your hands and run away. Do not talk. Use a two to one ratio for this practice. In other words, “for every one minute of talking you are about to do, think for two minutes first.”

How do you prevent from making these types of statements with your children?

 

A Way With Words

A book review of Isabel Allende‘s, “In the Midst of Winter.” 
 
winter-en
I read this book at the end of 2018 in preparation for my first book club meeting of 2019. There are few things that can stir me in the way that a well written book can. Among the authors that I have read, there is but a handful that I can count on to meet this need. Isabel Allende is one such author.
 
This is a beautifullywritten story. In this book, Allende takes the lives of three individuals. She braids the stories of their past to help explain their present actions. To me, it felt contrived. The premise- two people help a stranger with illegal tasks- is far-fetched. Among the other members of my book club, the feeling was the same. Most were unable to overcome this issue and enjoy the book.  
 
I did. And, I am glad that I pushed past my initial reaction. Allende is an author who surprises me. She managed to do that in a few places in this book. Plus, I enjoy her way with words. And this skill remained present.
 
If you are an Allende fan, I recommend this book. You may like it. If you are reading Isabel Allende for the first time, don’t pick this book as your representation of her work. You may be disappointing. Rather, I recommend starting with the books Daughter of Fortune, Paula, and Eva Luna. A qualifier, I have not read the books Paula and Eva Luna. Those were recommendations by mi amiga Marta Alfonso Durruty.
 
Have you read In the Midst of Winter? What did you think about it?

Monthly Motivational Mantra

 

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February Watchword- Fearless

I am not superhuman. But, I am a Latina, which is nearly the same thing. When I begin to feel fear, I acknowledge it. “Yeah fear. I see you. I hear you pounding the inside of my chest trying to break me apart.” I close my eyes, take a deep breath. I get myself ready. I look fear straight in the eye and say, “But, I’m still doing it anyway. Now, step aside!”

 

*This photo is of my first rock-climbing trip in Colorado. I took the photo so that I could examine the hook and cables sixty feet above me. I would be putting my entire weight… and faith on them.

Book Review of “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter”

A young woman dealing with loss, love and learning.

Fall 2018, I learned about a young adult author that completely excited me. Erika Sanchez, a professor of Poetry at Princeton University. She is the author of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Her debut novel was released by Knopf Books in October 2017. Now, I cannot say why I had not heard about it sooner. But, I am so thankful that I did. I connected with the story.  

The moment I heard the title, I knew that I had to read this book. The title proved just as intriguing for others in my social circle. After I finished reading it, I took to social media to laud its praises. I posted on Facebook,

If you have not already picked up your copy of this book. Do it! It is devastatingly beautiful. #iamnotyourperfectmexicandaughter

I read the first comment following my post:

Yes, you are my perfect Mexican daughter!! 

I laughed. My mom had posted a response. I could hear her saying those words, the Y’s in yes and you sounding more like J’s.

But, being a “Perfect Mexican Daughter” did not make me feel any less connected to this book. In fact, I felt connected to it deeply because I do not see myself as the perfect Mexican daughter. Like Julia Reyes, the book’s protagonist, I have felt hopelessness and despair. I have desired to rebel against my culture and circumstances. As a grown woman, I was able to enjoy the book and detach more than I would have years earlier.

The story is beautiful and raw. It is a literary masterpiece. It is a coming of age/maturation story of a young woman living in Chicago with her undocumented parents. Julia is a flawed, high schooler. She is suffering from depression, possibly PTSD and poverty. She is dealing with the questions left by her sister’s death. I could not to stop reading it. 

The book starts as the Reyes family learns that Olga, the older daughter, is dead. It is an excellent story that will grip you. And, if you come from a Latina background, it will feel familiar in a way other books may have never felt familiar.

The book ends beautifully. You grow to love a teenager who, like other teenagers, can be very unloveable. And, it will remind you to love the rebellious teenager you were. Since reading it, I have recommended it to everyone. And I hope that I have inspired you to read it as well.

I chose to include this book as part of the January theme for my blog because this book helped me re-evaluate and reset myself. It reminded me how much I long to have literature that features characters who look like me. Most importantly, it made me re-evaluate my dream of becoming an author and reset my goals in accomplishing the task. It is this book that helped launch me back into the trajectory of starting this blog.

Con Cariño, Amada.

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