Latino Heritage Month

Today marks the beginning of Latino Heritage Month. In honor of the month long celebration of Latino culture, I am re-posting something I wrote last year.  Well, I am re-cycling the post for that reason, and the fact I am so overwhelmed with life right now that I haven’t had much time to blog.  But, with the weekend in sight, I may be able to put up a new post soon! Thanks for stopping by.

This past month has been a celebration of Latino heritage. Latino Heritage  Month technically runs from September 15 to October 15.  Being Latina is a big part of who I am.  During most of my childhood, I lived in a very diverse community near Los Angeles.  In my neighborhood there were Armenians, Japanese Americans, Anglos, and people who looked like me. It wasn’t until I moved to a predominately white suburb that I was aware that I was different. During my first days in the new school, my new classmates were naturally curious about the “new girl.”  They asked me “what I was.”  I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question because I wasn’t really sure what they were asking, and I had never been asked that question before. I must have looked confused because the follow-up question was, “Are you Hawaiian…Italian… Indian?” Mexican wasn’t even an option.

I responded that I was Mexican, and then they asked if I was born in Mexico.

 Over the years I have been asked that question several more times, although it may not have been phrased the same way.   Depending on the circumstances I answered the questions in varying ways:

“I’m Mexican.”

“I’m Mexican American.”

“I’m Hispanic.”

“I’m  Latina.”

“I’m American, but of Mexican ancestry.”

“I was born in the U.S. but all of my grandparents were born in Mexico.”

Even though I wasn’t always certain what was the best way to answer that question, I still felt certain that I knew who I was and where my family was from. And I felt proud of my heritage.  My parents and family raised me with pride in our heritage, and culture. At family celebrations,  I would watch my mother dance  the Mexican folk dances she had learned as a young girl. 

I learned these dances too. I have had occasion to dance as an adult. 

I am so glad that some of these cultural lessons have been passed on to my children, my step-daughter Erica.

Diego, my youngest son, walked in the Latino Heritage parade last week. He marched with his classmates from his 1st grade Spanish immersion program. He wore the hat typical of his father’s native country, Colombia.

This is what Latino heritage is all about. A celebration of who we are and who are ancestors were. I hope that when my kids are asked the question, “What are you?” They will know how to answer, and they will answer with pride.

My Father’s Story

This is my father when he was a boy.

He was born in an area near El Paso, Texas, called Smeltertown.  It was called Smeltertown because of the smelt from the nearby mines.  I don’t think the name of the town is very appealing,  but, when I was little I would hear stories of his childhood, and I would think that Smeltertown sounded like a fascinating place.

Sometimes my dad’s childhood stories were tales of his struggles growing up, being raised by his adoptive mother, and his adoptive grandmother. My dad’s mother died when he was just months old.  His mother’s cousin, and her mother, raised him in Smeltertown. They made their living, in part, selling masa to make tortillas.  My dad worked alongside his adoptive mother and grandmother.

My dad's mother, cousin, and aunts.

My father was raised by these two strong, independent women.  They loved him and cared for him, but  were strict disciplinarians with him.  The only male presence, my father’s step-father, was largely absent.  When my dad was a teen they came to California and settled in a pretty rough neighborhood in East Los Angeles.

Dad, circa 1950, Belmont High School, Los Angeles.

He stayed out of trouble and eventually joined the army, which gave him more discipline, and offered him greater opportunity.

Dad in the Panama Canal Zone, 1953

My dad got out of the army and lived the single life, until he met and married my mom. They started their family right away, with three kids born in just over 4 years.  When my dad became a father, he had very little personal exposure to what being a father in a nuclear family looked like. Nowadays, they call that “modeling.”

Family Dinner, circa 1978.

But the lack of “modeling” has not deterred my dad. He learned a lot along the way. We have learned a lot along the way together too. Sometimes the lessons were rough. But, always, we knew he loved us and took care of us. And always, along the way, we have built new memories and created our own stories.

He took us on family vacations.

Family vacation to Vancouver, Canada, circa 1977. (Dad's not pictured because he was the photographer!)

Many times these vacations involved one of his favorite activities, fishing.

Vacation at Mammoth Lakes, California. Circa 1970.

Another Mammoth Lakes vacation.

He sang us songs.

Canciones de mi padre.

He coached my brothers in sports.

He has become a devoted grandfather.

Dad and Nico and Diego all dressed up.

When I was little people would comment how much I looked like my dad. I would cry because I thought they meant I was chubby and had a mustache.

Dad and I at my college graduation, 1986

But, now I understand that they meant we had similar features. Today, I know that my dad and I are similar in ways beyond our physical appearance, and even beyond some of our similar behaviors.  My dad and I share a similar understanding, and appreciation for each other. We have struggled. We are flawed, but we love each other. He is my father. I am his daughter. We are familia.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad.

Joe and Toni

Lunch Time Stories

I made another attempt at doing some more research for my “Historias” page yesterday. I went to see my grandmother and mother during my lunch break. It was a welcome respite from the gang, drug and sex abuse cases I deal with during my job in the criminal justice system.  The cases which are stories that all too often do not have happy endings.

When I arrived for lunch my mother was already there. She comes at least once a week to visit my grandmother who refuses to leave the house she has lived in for longer than I can remember.  My grandmother, of course was there too. She was a little disoriented, but at nearly 97 years-old, she’s entitled. She asked my mom three times, if the food my mom brought over was for her.  My grandmother finally stopped fussing in the kitchen, and settled down to eat her “hot cakes and sausage” while my mom and I enjoyed our Caldo de Pollo. My grandmother began to recount some of the stories from her youth with clarity and animation. My grandmother’s stories transported me to another time, when catching flu in the year 1918 was fatal, and when the death of a spouse meant homelessness and poverty for a widow with three young children under 10. I deal with tragedy and ugliness everyday in my job, but when I view it through the lens of a young 5 year-old girl who happens to be my grandmother recounting her history, it is vivid, it is real.  I listen to her story and realize that the woman she is today, the mother who has given birth to 6 children, 2 of whom did not live past one month, and another who died at 42; the grandmother who has helped to raise 9  grandchildren, but has also buried one of them; the woman whose life has given her memory filled with happiness and sadness; this woman who now has difficulty remembering how the food she is eating was put on her plate, I can’t help but think that her’s is a story with a happy ending.

RoseMarie wth dancing costume made by Grandma

Latino Heritage

This past month has been a celebration of Latino heritage. Latino Heritage  Month technically runs from September 15 to October 15.  Being Latina is a big part of who I am.  During most of my childhood, I lived in a very diverse community near Los Angeles.  In my neighborhood there were Armenians, Japanese Americans, Anglos, and people who looked like me. It wasn’t until I moved to a predominately white suburb that I was aware that I was different. During my first days in the new school, my new classmates were naturally curious about the “new girl.”  They asked me “what I was.”  I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question because I wasn’t really sure what they were asking, and I had never been asked that question before. I must have looked confused because the follow-up question was, “Are you Hawaiian…Italian… Indian?” Mexican wasn’t even an option.

I responded that I was Mexican, and then they asked if I was born in Mexico.

 Over the years I have been asked that question several more times, although it may not have been phrased the same way.   Depending on the circumstances I answered the questions in varying ways:

“I’m Mexican.”

“I’m Mexican American.”

“I’m Hispanic.”

“I’m  Latina.”

“I’m American, but of Mexican ancestry.”

“I was born in the U.S. but all of my grandparents were born in Mexico.”

Even though I wasn’t always certain what was the best way to answer that question, I still felt certain that I knew who I was and where my family was from. And I felt proud of my heritage.  My parents and family raised me with pride in our heritage, and culture. At family celebrations,  I would watch my mother dance  the Mexican folk dances she had learned as a young girl. I learned these dances too. I have had occasion to dance as an adult. 

I am so glad that some of these cultural lessons have been passed on to my children, my step-daughter Erica.

Diego, my youngest son, walked in the Latino Heritage parade last week. He marched with his classmates from his 1st grade Spanish immersion program. He wore the hat typical of his father’s native country, Colombia.

This is what Latino heritage is all about. A celebration of who we are and who are ancestors were. I hope that when my kids are asked the question, “What are you?” They will know how to answer, and they will answer with pride.