Master of My Multiverse

As a POC child growing up in America, I straddled two universes.

On one hand, I was a part of the America where being on the cheerleading squad, listening to pop, rock, or rap, and watching the latest episode of 90210 were important. On the other, I was a part of an America where being invited to be a dama in a quinceañera, listening to Banda Machos, and watching Muchachitas were equally important.

I think this is often the case for people who immigrate to this country, though I do believe that it can be a part of the lives of people whose family stretches in America for generations. The home life links you to your family’s past and culture while the professional or school life tethers you to mainstream (Anglo) America. When I was younger, this felt like a lot of work, straddling two cultures.

As a POC adult, I find myself with both feet squarely planted in white America and further away from the Latino-landia that surrounded me when I was younger. I pondered for a long time why that was. Here’s what I realized. As a young person, I was inculcated in the Latino world of my parents. My parents attended and sponsored weddings, baby showers, and quinceañeras. I participated in these activities because my parents did not hire babysitters to care for my brothers and I at home while they went out. No. We attended all of those activities. Everyone in our community did the same, it was standard. Result, I was around Spanish, food, friends, and familia.

Now, I live in a largely caucasian world. In my hometown, Latinos make up less than 5% of the population. The majority of my friends are non-Latinos and I have no extended family to lean on for Mexican-style fun. Spanish is spoken for business purposes or to converse with my family members by phone or social media. And, the only other Latina I interact with on a regular (daily) basis is my legal assistant. This means that my mom is not around daily to share the stories of our family, no friend to turn up the music when a good Banda song comes on, and no older aunt to remind me to prepare a family altar for Dia del Muerto. And I can forget about having a posada, who would I even invite?

This question stayed with me for a long while…

How do we, the Americanized children of immigrants, continue to connect to our cultures when we no longer live within our immigrant communities?

 I realized that the effort had to come from me. It was my responsibility to create opportunities for myself to connect to my culture. Here’s a list of the things that I started to do to help me reconnect:

Find organizations that can help you connect with your culture. Join a business or social organizations (check out MANA or your local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce) or participate in a faith-based communities (in my town, a local Catholic Church holds mass in Spanish every Sunday).

Get lost in the world of entertainment. Read books by POC authors. Find a movie or show on your favorite streaming services (bonus points if you watch it in your native language.) Play music from the artists your parents liked (this will give you a strong wave of nostalgia.)

Force yourself to cook recipes from your culture correctly. The yummy results will transport you to your past and give you a sense of appreciation for the love and work your parents put into meals.

Make it a point to visit your OG community for fun activities and events. When the covid-19 pandemic ends, my goal is to return to Garden City, KS for the 16th of September celebrations that occur annually.

Bring your culture into your own world. For example, if you are in a book club, select a book written by a POC author this way, you share your culture with your non-POC friends.

Finally, learn your native language or teach it to your children. According to a mentor I once had, older generations hesitated to teach their children the native languages because diversity was frowned upon before. My mentor recalled being punished in schools for speaking Spanish, even in a lunchroom setting. However, the tides have turned. Your kid will not be smacked with a ruler on the knuckles for speaking Spanish. Teaching yourself or your children the native language will provide a link to their past or enable them to communicate with family still in the old country. More importantly, in our increasingly multicultural country and ever-shrinking world, knowing more than one language is an asset.

What are the things you do to connect with your culture?

Breaking bad (habits)

I have been a life-long nail biter. I do not know how this habit started or why it began. But, I can remember being as young as six years old and biting my nails.

Since corona commenced, the thought of putting my fingers in my mouth creates a whole new level of anxiety. It is unfortunate that it has taken me this long to acknowledge the overall ickiness of this habit; but, I guess it’s never too late to make a positive change. This change in perspective means that I am finally enjoying pretty nail polishes and lovely hands.

Now, there are many opinions on how to break bad habits. I found several good articles while I prepared this essay that I recommend for anyone who needs proven tools. (Harvard Business Review article and Time Magazine article.) But, I cannot say that I broke my nail biting habit with much forethought.

I started getting nervous about my nail biting. At some point, I realized that the new medical reality added an extra layer of danger and disgust to my habit. Of course, this is an anxiety driven habit where it helps to keep your hands busy. So, one of the things I did during lockdown was to start painting my nails. This led to less incidents of my hands in my mouth.

I still have a ways to go before I can say that I am completely cured of my bad habit. But, I do feel that I have new tools with which I can quell this behavior.

Have you ever had to change behavior? What behavior or habit did you try to change? What worked? What didn’t?

Postponing señora style

As a little girl, I could not wait to get older. I longed to be a classy lady like my mom and aunt Silvia. I admired beautiful women and hoped someday I would be one.

In my teens, I was clueless. Either because I did not have the financial means or a basic understanding of esthetics, I was sloppy. Worse, I knew it. I felt uncomfortable with my curves so I wore clothes as baggy as I could. I would look at girls like my Camacho cousins, always made up and well dressed, and envision the day that I too would be “put together nicely.”

Eventually, things started to come together. During undergrad, I was part of a sorority. I paid attention. From my sisters, I learned tips and tricks to apply makeup, style hair, and coordinate clothes. Law school gave me internal confidence and helped me find my voice.

At 24, I thought I had developed a style of my own. Unfortunately, I stumbled. Impractically high heels, extremely low cut shirts, too-tight dresses. The strong, sexy señorita I felt inside tried to interpret herself by focusing too much on my curves and not enough on the sex appeal of my mind.

As I got older, I found my esthetic. It continues to develop. And, aging is an important part of that development. I am comfortable with the fact that I am in my forties. I don’t lie about my age. I don’t wish to relive my youth. And, I do not see getting older as a problem. I have achieved the style that best fits my personality. Part Maria Felix. Part Mexican loteria’s “La Dama.”

It may be that lovely Latinas like Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, and Sofia Vergara have created unrealistic expectations for us. Or it may be that they have redefined just how long women remain beautiful. Whatever the reason, I am inspired to keep looking lovely. I have no interest in letting myself go.

I exercise (every now and then.) I moisturize everyday. I try to analyze clothing styles and trends to find the things that look the best on me. I foresee me trying to postpone what I would term “Señora Style” as long as I can. To do this, I have created guidelines for myself. These guidelines help accentuate and highlight my beauty without trying to recapture my youth.

Focus on a Feature

When I was younger, I was the worst about trying to show everything off. My dresses were a little too snug, my shirts extremely low cut. I accentuated everything. This provided no focus and truth be told, bordered on boring.

Now, I try to find ways to highlight one special feature at a time. Shirts that show a little chest are now paired with a classic pair of pants or a below the knee skirt. Form fitting dresses now allow for breathability. In fact, I now use a famous Marilyn Monroe quote when it comes to purchasing dresses…

“Your clothes should be tight enough to show you’re a woman but loose enough to show you’re a lady.”

Practically Beautiful

There is nothing worse than aerating a sprawling lawn with four inch stilettos. Yet, this has been me on more than one occasion. I remember once going to a K-state football game with a friend. I wore high heeled boots. By the end of the first quarter, I realized the huge mistake I had made. The problem was that once I developed my twenty-year old girl style, I thought that I had to stick to my “look.” This attempt to “dress my part” came to a head when I met my husband.

“You’re not actually planning to wear those around Disney World?” My love asked incredulously.

“Why not? I wear heels all the time.”

Eventually, I realized that being elegant means knowing how to dress for every occasion. I learned that you can be pretty and well-dressed even when dressed casually. Most importantly, I learned that you are less of a caricature if your look fits the activities in which you are engaging. Now, I encourage you to learn these lessons.

Natural is Nice

When it comes to makeup, I have tried two different schools: all of it- false eyelashes, dark liquid liner, lots of mascara, bright lipstick, goopy lip gloss, bronzer and highlighter everywhere. Or, none at all.

Over time, I have developed the look that makes me most comfortable- real lashes, a few coats of mascara, a soft crayon eyeliner, and a natural lipstick. I have learned that this softer look makes me more timeless. As an added bonus, it keeps my skin looking younger. Finally, it saves me loads of time.

Whatever your position on makeup, remember this…

You are beautiful however you choose. to present yourself to the world. All you need is to think about what will work best for you and create the person that you want to be.

Confidence is Key

So, what more can be said?

Change your hair color and length. Put on the colored contacts or wear the nerdy girl glasses. Unleash your 13 Going on 30 fantasy and try on every piece of clothing you own. Pick out the things that make you feel good about yourself. Wrap yourself in love.

The most important thing that I have learned in my lifetime is this…

Whether you are wearing a ball gown or only perfume confidence is key.

Now it is your turn. Share your top tips or hot hints. Let me know what I could do to help me grow in beauty in confidence. I would love to hear your thoughts. And, I hope reading my thoughts helped you too.

Invest In You

2020 has been a year fraught with stress and surprises. One thing that has been helpful to me has been to focus inward.

For years, I promised myself that I would become fluent in four languages before I die. It is a bucket list goal that I have nurtured since youth. In high school, I studied French. I learned a great deal from my one year of study. In years later, I maintained my knowledge through different techniques. But, I was far from fluent.

A few years ago, my husband and I traveled to the Dominican Republic. There, we met and connected with a couple from Brazil. Although neither of them knew English, I was able to communicate with them by speaking in Spanish. And, my Spanish speaking skills somehow facilitated my ability to understand their Portuguese.

Fast forward to the pandemic lockdown in March and April; I decided to pursue an item from my bucket list. I began to learn a foreign language, Portuguese, with Duolingo.

My language practice became very important to me. I appreciated the consistency that this program has given me during these last few months. And, I am happy to finally be working towards a long-time goal. I do believe that my Portuguese-speaking skills have been aided by my prior knowledge of Spanish. Nonetheless, my progress has been substantial. I am able to comprehend a large amount of Portuguese. More importantly, I am finding great joy in my studies.

If you are interested in investing in yourself, consider the following:

Invest Money

I have paid for a Duolingo membership. I practice 10-30 minutes each day. This program gives me a solid base on which I am building daily. But, there are applications that I have already been paying for that I can now use to enhance my language skills. I am watching Portuguese movies on Netflix and other streaming services.

Invest time

As stated above, I work on my language skills about 10 to 30 minutes daily. However, there are other ways that I invest time on my new language skills. I have enjoyed watching Brazilian programs on streaming networks. When I do use a TV show or movie to “study” I do two things. I watch the same movie twice. I read it with Portuguese subtitles and English language. Then, I watch with Portugues dubbing and English subtitles.

I listen to podcasts on Apple. The programs run between nine to twenty minutes. They are great commuting material. However, it is a good idea to go back and listen to the podcast one more time. I like to stop the podcast to practice with the podcaster. It gives me another opportunity to improve.

Another way in which I invest a little time is by reading Portuguese magazines, newspapers, and websites. Even 5 to 10 minutes daily of this type of reading, once or twice per week improves my language comprehension.

Invest in People

Of course, no language skill can be complete without investing in speaking and social opportunities. After all, the purpose of acquiring a new language is to increase your ability to connect with other humans. I have had it a little easier than most in this department. One of my co-workers speaks Portuguese. As such, I am able to engage in light conversation with him.

In time, I will need to actively create more speaking opportunities for myself. At that point, I foresee scheduling coffee talks with my colleague in person. Additionally, I have a Brazilian friend that I want to engage with remotely via Zoom.

I hope you will excuse my language-laden post. But, I promise you can apply the ideas that I shared here to any goal you may have. Once you decide to invest in yourself, your next step is to decide how you will invest your time and money into this goal. And, if you need someone to brainstorm, hit me up in the comments. I would love to help you create a plan.

The truth is that you are worth investing time, money and attention. You can start today by asking yourself…

How will you invest in you?