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, August 1, 2014

Mission Moment: August

 June and July is when a lot of short-term mission teams come down to Guatemala, and I often am hired to translate for them. Just a few weeks of translating greatly offsets my costs for the rest of the year; so I don't hesitate to pick up the jobs as long as they're with groups I know and trust. And, as always happens, the people in these groups start asking me what I'm doing down here; so I tell them about the educational program. The question is inevitably asked if they can come down and do a week of mission work with me. I often avoid this question by simply telling them that I'm not ready for groups to come down yet, but the reality is that I'll never be ready.
Imagine that I showed up at your house with 5-20 Japanese millionaires. They all have some sort of badge on their chest which looks slightly different on each of them, but you have no clue what it says. They walk around your house—with only one or two of them even asking permission to come in—and proceed to point at stuff and talk in Japanese. Some of them are even laughing. Then one of them—who seems like the leader and was at least one of the ones who asked for permission to enter your house—asks you for a hammer in passable English. After supplying the requested hammer, one of them starts to break open one of your walls. They install something they brought with them, show what it does, and go away smiling.
The question is if you would be smiling. Did you need whatever it was that they installed? Didn't you get along fine without it before? Did you know they were coming? Did you know what they were going to do to your house which, although humble, you loved how it was? Why were they laughing? What were they pointing at? They're all things which are understood differently in different cultures, and because of the language barrier, they are often things that can be misunderstood.
And maybe, besides the money, that's why I translate for these groups because, after nearly 4 years here, I can translate the joke about as fast as they can make it; so we can all laugh together. I can explain the process and explain how the finished product works. And maybe, just maybe, I can limit the damage done by well-intentioned people.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not opposed to all groups. Medical teams are very important. People who come to teach a skill are very important. I had a neighbor missionary lose one of his special needs girls a week or two ago. She stopped breathing, and he called an ambulance to come. The ambulance personnel didn't know how to do CPR; so he went and did CPR all the way to the hospital. There are needs which Americans can come down and help with on a short-term basis, but putting stoves and cement floors in homes aren't them. And I certainly don't see myself inviting groups down any time soon.
Just one more week of translating and I'm back to my normal work. That will be nice.

The Care and Keeping of a Missionary
So, according to the Affordable Care Act, people who are outside of the country more than 330 are exempt. That means as long as I don't have more than two 2-week visits during the year, I don't need health insurance. However, as my parents get older, I want to have the option; so while I was there in June I applied for Medicare and was accepted. Now they're saying that I have 60 days to have a physical done with my new primary care physician in the US. Please pray that they'll extend the deadline for me. This does mean that, regardless of other situations, I will be back in November for a visit, dates not yet decided.
I also have a friend applying for a visa to visit the US. Please keep him in your prayers as well.

As always, thank you for your support. Your prayers and your financial donations go a long way toward helping the people. I'm looking forward to my next trip out to Solola at the end of July. Remember you can reach me at any time via and I try to keep my blog (an on-line journal) updated at