Monday, August 25, 2014

Racism, the US, and a reaction: Day 1,503

Some of you know that one of my main methods of communicating with friends both in the US and all over the world is via Facebook.  As I was catching up on what everyone has been up to tonight, I saw that a college friend of mine had posted an article.  (Please take a moment to click on that link as the rest of this will all make a lot more sense if you at least know what the article is about.)  My first response to her link was "I'm not average," but I was.

When I lived in the US--4 years ago--all of my friends were white.  I had one black friend from college.  I had one half-Latino friendly acquaintance. My only Asian "friends" were my adopted cousins.  And, via marriage, my family is a little more diverse than some.

Today, my "first language" is Spanish.  It's the language I draft my speeches in.  It's the language I assume everything is in when there is little context.  (I was playing a game with animals in it the other day and the mouse-over tag for one animal was "llama."  My brain processed the word as though it was Spanish.)  It's often the language I speak to my pets in.  It's pretty much the only language my fiance and his family speak.  It's the language my neighbors speak.  And it's pretty much the only language I'll respond to on the matter how many times the men yell at me "Good morning, my love!" as I walk past.

Today, the majority of the friends I interact with on a daily basis are Hispanic.  Most of my neighbors are Hispanic.  The only white people I typically interact with are an interesting group of "I'm here until I'm not" kind of people.  The short-termers--people here for a couple months--and the retirees are folks who I don't hang out with because I have essentially nothing in common with them (see article).

The conversation on my friend's Facebook page then turned to people of mixed race and how they feel/see the world.  I'm not mixed race, but I do consider myself to be bicultural at this point and I recognize that my children will be mixed race.  Which is when I started typing the following response and realized all of it would make a better blog post:

I also think that it is very different for people such as myself--which is why I stated that I'm not average, but I was before I came here--who have spent substantial time in a foreign (and non-white) country.  If I were to return to the US, I might make a decision to live in a Latino neighborhood.  But, then again, I might not.  The fact is that my neighbors here understand that there is no "white neighborhood."  (Okay, there is a white city.  I lived there for 6 months.  I hated it.  I worked too hard to pay the rent and too little on the reasons I'm down here.  In the town I now live in, there's no white neighborhood.)  My neighbors accept that I do things their way because that's the way things are done here.  I feel that if I moved to a "Latino neighborhood" in Michigan (somewhere in Pontiac or Detroit?) that my neighbors wouldn't be as accepting of me...even with my (future) Latino spouse because, let's face it, la gringuita tiene muchas opciones; no tiene que estar aqui mostrando sus 'riquezas' ("The little white girl has lots of options; she doesn't have to be here showing off her 'wealth.'") or so they'd probably think.

To be quite honest, if I were in the US, I'd rather be a poor, white girl in a white neighborhood than I would a poor white girl in a non-white neighborhood.  It's a race thing that I've encountered a lot down here, especially when I was living in the "white city" or even when I go there now.  Non-white people assume that white people have money.  White people don't assume that about white people; although they do assume that most non-white people don't (except for Asians and Jews).  So, if I were to live in the US, I would prefer to live among people who don't assume anything about my wealth or lack thereof...which would lead to increased potential for white friendships and decrease potential for non-white friendships.

Which actually leads me briefly to the topic of "reverse racism."  First of all, the definition of racism is as follows: "The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races" (Oxford Dictionary).  So, really, in my mind, "reverse racism" should take that definition and put a "not" in it.  "White people are rich" is a racist statement.  Guess what?  I don't have extra income.  I eat meat maybe once per month because I don't have money to buy it otherwise.  And, sure, I have a "Mommy/Daddy/Brother, get me out of here" button--something my neighbors don't have--that I can press whenever I want, but it's a one-way trip to a life I don't want to have, a life I wasn't called to, a life I would probably detest.

I recently read something that said that women's brains are like wires: everything is connected to everything else.  I guess that's sort of how this post reads as well...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Positives and Negatives: Day 1,491

The big negative is short and not-so-sweet: it appears that I've lost an entire community.  It's possible that it will be revived in the future--we do have all the names--but I doubt it will be the same as it could have been.

The positives were the comments made in my other community today:
1. "You did what you said you'd do."
This should not have to be listed as a positive.  So many times these people are promised help and they do not receive it, not from the government and not from the outside world.  These people took a chance on me, and they are slowly learning that I'm not here to let them down.  God willing, I never will.  Granted, the program isn't running as smoothly as I'd like it to yet, but we're all stumbling through it together.
2. "My son is whole thanks to you."
I can't really take the credit for this one, but they give it to me anyway.  As I've told others, I often serve merely as a bridge.  Some rivers are harder to cross than others without a bridge; some rivers are so wide that they seem more like oceans than rivers.  Such was the case of one of my families.  They have a daughter who was basically constantly seizing, and they have a son who was born without a hand.  (Now, I think the son was still in school thanks to not having the hand, but that's hopefully not going to be an issue with the educational program.)  When we last met, in May, the boy was still waiting for his prosthesis.  It isn't anything fancy, but he has it now and it works for him.  His mother is happy, and I'm getting the credit because I got on-line and found someone who could help him.  (Anyone know and ophthalmologist?  I need one of those for a girl and haven't had any luck yet.)  Besides all that, her son already was whole; they all just feel like he is more whole now.
3. Not a comment, but the majority of grades are improving!
This is good.  This is what we want to see.  Unfortunately, that also means that the people have more points to spend which means more funds are needed.  I had some people who said in May that they were going to help me out with this up in Michigan, but I have no update from them.  (As one of them is a teacher, I figured I'd give him time for classes to be over for the summer before I expected anything.)
4. A lot more things I'm sure, but...

One negative is that I have made almost no progress on improving my Kaqchikel.  I say "almost" because I did meet someone who said he would teach me.  It would be a Q40 round-trip bus ride to meet with him.  Maybe we can split the cost and travel time and meet in the middle, trading languages.  It's a thought.  While some of the people here in San Antonio speak Kaqchikel, it's certainly a different dialect than they speak in Solola.  I often get weird looks when I use my San Antonian Kaqchikel in Solola.  (When I use my Solola Kaqchikel, they laugh at me just because they think it's funny to hear those words coming out of my mouth, but they do understand and appreciate it.)  I would love to understand them more and in their own language.

Another negative from today was little Griselda.  She's about 7 years old, and she doesn't want to go to school.  Her mother is a widow.  She says she sends the girl to school, but she doesn't go; she goes and hides.  So, the girl failed this marking period.  So, I had a talk with mom about being in charge of the family, that if she says something has to be done, it has to be done or there are consequences.  I guess I'm as close to a truancy officer as there is around here; anyway, I hope and pray that Griselda goes back to school.

So as to not end on negatives,
5. I talked to both Mercedes and Wendy today.  They are my two girls in 8th grade. (The most advanced in the program.)  I asked them what they wanted to do with their lives.  Mercedes wants to be a secretary, and Wendy wants to be a lawyer.  The first is a high school degree, and the second is a university degree.  I'm behind these girls 100%; I hope you are too.  Mercedes's little sister is another one of our special needs girls, and she admitted today that her father is somewhat of an alcoholic.  (She had a really low grade in one of her classes, and when I asked about it, she said that because her father had drank all the money in the house, she didn't have the money to buy the supplies to do her project.  So, she didn't do it and didn't turn it in.)  That means that when her mother dies, taking care of her little sister falls on her (and her brother who only completed 6th grade and doesn't want to study any further).  It's a tough situation, and probably the only way that the family will make it through together is if Mercedes finishes school.  Wendy is the one we need the eye doctor for.  She was ill about two years ago, and since then her eyesight has been diminishing steadily.  Her mother figures the girl only has about a year to go before she would be considered blind.  Please pray for my girls.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Affordable Care Act and Foreign Living: Day 1,465

The Affordable Care Act (or "Obamacare") is something that has sparked a lot of controversy in the US.  "Every American will have health care!"  I get it.  I do.  Everyone has the right to life.  But what about us Americans who live outside of the country?  What about those of us who live in countries with health care so inexpensive that we just don't bother with medical insurance?  Don't worry...they thought about that.  Americans who spend over 330 days per year outside of the US do not need medical insurance.  (I'm still not sure how they figure that out.)  But what does this mean for me as my parents get older?  What does this mean for me if there is some emergency in my family and I need to go to the US to help take care of things?  So, from over 2,000 miles away--and with the help of my mother--I registered for Government Health Care and was accepted.  I am not proud of the fact that I now take your tax dollars just so I can be in the country for more than 35 days of the year.  I'm actually quite ashamed...that the United States is denying their own citizens the right to be in their own country.  As my own mother recently said (in reference to something else): "They can't really keep you out."  Maybe not, mom, but they sure can make it difficult to be there.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Things I Won't Say...And What I Wish You Would Part 1: Day 1,428

I recently took a trip to the US to visit some of my family and friends, and as always happens, people inevitably say stuff that I have no clue how to respond to.  Sometimes it's just a question without an answer, but sometimes it's somewhat hurtful as well.

You say: How long are you home for?
I think:  First of all, I'm not home.  Some days I'm not sure where home is or, rather, if I have one, but this is not home.  Second of all, it's really none of your business how long I'm here for.  You weren't making plans to hang out with me anyway.
I say: I'm here for two weeks.

You say: It must be nice to be home.
I think: Again, I'm not home.  And while it is nice to catch up with people, I have two cats and a dog who I worry about while I'm here.  I have people who might want to meet with me.  And I have much better downtime activities in Guatemala than I do here.  I have numbers to crunch and projects to stay on top of.  Really, this trip cuts into my life, but the Guatemalan government kicks me out ever 180 days.  I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to be.
I say: It's nice to see people.

You say: I really like reading your newsletter articles.
I think: Yeah, well...I haven't written one in two months.  People haven't been scheduling the meetings like they were supposed to. I'm frustrated, and I feel like a little bit of a failure since I don't have news to share with you.  So, I just don't write.  I mean, what do you want me to tell you?  That I've spent the last two months learning to cook Guatemalan food and weaving? Do missionaries even do that kind of thing?
I say: Thanks.  You know, I write more posts on my blog as well if you want more to read. (Er, sometimes.)

You say: It must really be different being back.
I think: Whew!  At least you didn't say 'home.'  But I'm not really 'back' either.  I'm more of a traveler passing through.  And of course here is different from there.  I mean, you throw your toilet paper in the toilet here!  Your food comes out of cans and boxes!  I'm staying in a house with insulation, two freezers, and a television!  When I'm here, my parents fund my stay; they let me use the car and they buy me food.  Here I live with people instead of animals.  Here my neighbors are far away while there I have a neighbor who calls me to come over to her house by yelling over the wall.  Here I drive, and there I use public transportation.  Here I speak English and there I speak Spanish...and sometimes the few words of Kaqchikel that I know.  Here I hardly walk anywhere; there I walk everywhere.  I mean, YES!, it's as different as night and day or black and white or any other opposites you can think of.  Okay...maybe not opposites, but different, very different. I don't even know where to start explaining the differences to you.  But DIFFERENT ISN'T BAD...just different.
I laugh and say: Well, yeah, the language for one.

You say: So, you meet anyone yet?
I think: Well, sure, I meet people all the time, but that's not what you're asking here.  I just don't know how to explain to you that while there is someone super important and special in my life, that's not why I'm down in Guatemala.  That's not why I prefer there to here.  That's not related at all.  And I know you're thinking that I must be getting old.  And I know you're thinking that a woman like me shouldn't stay single.  But with my relationship track record, it's not something I'm really comfortable talking about until I know it's going to happen.  I can be as sure as I want, but until the documents are signed, I kind of figure it won't work out for me.  So, while I'd love to tell you all about him, I won't...because it's complicated being in a relationship with someone from another culture.
I say: All in God's timing.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Explaining Myself: Day 1,290

I never give more than I have, but I never run out of things to give.  There is a reason for that.  Many people when they talk about giving, they are talking about giving with their wallet.  My wallet is quite small.  To give with my wallet would end quickly.  Instead, I choose to give with my heart.  When a person has a healthy heart--not talking about medical health here--it is a font of love; it has no end.  It doesn't run out.

Do you give?  How do you give?

Yo nunca doy mas que tengo, pero nunca acaba lo que puedo dar.  Hay una razon.  Muchas personas, cuando hablan de dar, estan hablando de dar con su billetera.  Mi billetera es muy pequeña.  Dar con mi billetera terminaria rapido. En cambio, yo elijo dar con mi corazon.  Cuando alguien tiene un corazon saludable--y no estoy hablando de salud medica aqui--es un manantial de amor; no tiene fin.  No acaba.

Y usted da?  Como da?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Getting Better! Day 1,255

As I very briefly mentioned in January, we took some of the kids to the doctor.  I'm very happy to share this update with all of you.  I get to see her probably next week, and I am THRILLED!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bilingual: Day 1,219

I had a thought the other day that I really love hanging out with other Spanish-English translators.  We don't have two languages in which we communicate; we have three.  People think that Spanglish is for amateurs, but I tell you that it is for the pros.

I can't think of any examples right now in English, but there are some things in every language that just are awkward to say; however, since we don't know any better--we don't know they are awkward--we just keep saying them.  There are also things that we used to say in English which were more efficient but now we don't say them that way because the word has become antiquated.  In Spanish, it's easy to give an example off my head:
My father's mother's mother's father's mother was Native American.
La mama del papa de la mama de la mama de mi papa era indigena de los EE.UU. ("The mother of the father of the mother of the mother of my father was indigenous of the U.S.")  All of those "of the" is just ridiculously complicated if you ask me.
Then there are words that exist in English that don't exist in Spanish such as siblings and grandparents.  Sure, you could say "hermanos" for "siblings," but it could also mean just "brothers."  The same goes for "abuelos" which could mean either "grandparents" or "grandfathers" (most people have 2).

I guess the best examples I can think of in English off the top of my head have to do with verbs.  In English, you need to have a pronoun (or name) in front of a verb to explain who the subject is.  In Spanish, because the verbs are constantly changing--probably the hardest part of Spanish to learn--you usually don't need to explain who/what the subject is because it's included in the verb.
Quiero dormir.
I want to sleep.  You could say "Yo (I) quiero dormir," but it's completely unnecessary.
Necesitas lavar los trastos.
You need to wash/do the dishes.

So, when we speak Spanglish, we can come out with this:
"Tengo que lavar los trastos y la ropa, pero les encontrare at John's house at 3." instead of
"I have to wash the dishes and the clothes, but I will mean you all at John's house at 3." or
"Tengo que lavar los trastos y la ropa, pero les encontrare en la casa de John a las 3."

Some of us fall in and out of languages easier than others.  I'm not sure I'm bilingual at this point.  I think I just have one language with a very large vocabulary and two sets of grammar rules.  Just as when you use English and modify your vocabulary based on your audience, I do the same thing.  However, it's not so much based on how advanced the words are as it is the "type" ("language") of vocabulary.

Just some idea that has been floating around in my head for a couple of weeks...