How To Discover discover your Ethnicity

This might be a bit of a “rambling on” post as I try to fasten on to “something” and find myself in the discussion of ethnicity. 

My parents are Mexican immigrants, and I, their 8th child, was born and raised in the United States. I have always called myself Mexican, I don’t say “of Mexican descent”, just simply Mexican born in the U.S, es muy facil. Pero, at the same time, my fellow Americans, like my cold blooded Englishman will ask “Doesn’t that make you American of Mexican descent?” Like I said, it’s easy, I am Mexican-American.

The Pocha Treatment

When I was in Mexico recently, after hearing me speak, the people I was around probed into my birthplace. My strong latina features could have settled the matter, pero my “American accent” (I didn’t know I had an “American” accent) pointed me al otro lado. De donde eres? Where am I from? Where exactly was I born? I’m from California, Porque? Why were they even questioning? Somehow that bothered me. Was I gonna get the “Pocha” treatment? Where there is an immediate disdain for American born “Mexicans” if their Spanish is not fluent.

One lady assumed that I was born in Mexico, not an outlandish assumption I guess, but then I spoke, y pues, if I’m from  America I will speak like an American, a Mexican-American that is. Are you tracking? I found myself explaining a few times that while I was born in America, my parents were from Jalisco, this was my Mexican card. There are lots of feelings that can arise in this distinction, a defensiveness about my Spanglish, a fear of rejection, a stubbornness that says, I love America. I’m different from the “real” Mexicans, but I’m not, it’s in my blood, my roots and my descendancy. 

I didn’t want to be treated as a Pocha, or criticized for speaking bad Spanish. When I’m speaking with Mexicans that speak Spanish fluently, I am very aware of my Spanglish. My brain works extra hard to translate English words into Spanish, I sometimes get frustrated that these Mexicans don’t “Spanglish.” After repeated attempts at Spanglish, it gets messy at times. I tend to apologize for my “broken Spanish.”

Gracias a Dios, that my familia and my friends were very gracious and patient. I didn’t feel disrespected or mocked, my “Americanness” didn’t keep them from connecting with me or embracing me. When we were cozy with each other, I appreciated when they corrected me and they enjoyed the Spanglish they picked up from me.

En Conclusion:

Those days in Mexico with my flaco, were much needed, our friendship flourished and our marriage covenant was strengthened. Mi esposo, did very well in Mexico. In full immersion mode, he enjoyed the hospitality of our Mexican culture and he used his gift of patience as he listened to the fast Spanish talk. He was able to understand bits and pieces and stayed engaged in the conversation. When things got out of his reach he asked me for help 🙂 After 34 years of being infused with our romantic language, he should himself be a fluent “Spanglisher.” Why hadn’t I taught him? Pero, I have always pushed that responsibility on him. My gringo felt the admonishment and so he practiced the few words he already knew and was rewarded with encouragement.

Embracing My Multicultural Life

While I was in Mexico only too aware of my language shortcomings, my familia didn’t laugh at me or criticize the many bloopers, they embraced this Mexican American girl and lavished a grand opening to their lives and welcomed me and my Benjamin with open arms. I am looking forward to further connection with them and looking forward to sharing with them how God has blessed me in my Christian, American and Mexican cultures; it is a rich life.

Mexican American Girl Goes To Jalisco

When I was growing up, I heard tiny little snippets about my parents’ lives in Jalisco, Mexico. I would toss these nuggets of information carelessly to a corner of my mind and file them away, like a receipt that might be needed one day. Luego, during those caregiving years of  la tercera edad, my apa at 80 years old was telling his life story. I was hearing him speak about things I’d never known. I took notes and fact checked him, asi es, I googled the info he was sharing, que sin vergüenza! As if google knows more than my apa!  

 I felt like the scales had fallen from my eyes. I wanted to know more about my parents, my roots. Something in me was born. I gathered all the snippets in my memory and I asked my apa for more details. A longing to see the places my parents grew up in sparked. I desired to meet and reconnect with my family in Mexico. I wanted to organize the stories, to share them with my family. A flame of curiosity and discovery had been lit. I wanted to go to Jalisco, Mexico to retrace my fathers experiences and discover more about my mother.

The cares of his life and mine, minimized the fire to a smoldering wick, but it did not go out. De ves en cuando I would make comments about my desire to go to Jalisco one day. Meanwhile, I organized my stories and I gleaned memories from my tia Chepina and my tio Chuy. This kept me writing.  Ben would, in his cool manner, acknowledge that algun dia we might go to Mexico.  I tended to squelch the flame with “small minded” thinking. Es que, it could be too expensive and besides I didn’t really know my family in Mexico, it was just too much to hope for a trip with husband to Jalisco, a family reunion and romance, at our age? But the dream persisted.

As Ben and I have been facing the empty nest we have been working on our friendship. Ahora, now that we’re not so busy with raising children we are “getting to know” each other again. I’ve dared to be vulnerable and share my heart with him. He knows of my hope to write and publish my fathers stories. I’ve let him see and hear that yearning I have about going to Guadalajara and connecting with my family history. 

One nice practice that he has started, has been to leave me an occasional note as he leaves to work. Even though getting words out is hard for him, he knows I need them, so he strives to “dwell with me with understanding” He doesn’t want his prayers to be hindered. ☺️ Fijate, for being a cold blooded Englishman of few words, his notes always stir my heart. His last note is what re-sparked the flame in me. 

“I want us to plan this trip to Mexico as soon as possible. Before NH. I don’t want to put it off too much. I’m praying you can get these stories published and books”

Imaginate, my heart leaped as I noted his confidence in me and his desire to be in all of my life, including the long buried raíces of Mexico. Luego! As I was organizing myself for the day, we both got a text from our pastor asking us to pray for his upcoming Mexico trip. He was going to visit our Missionary couple in Mexico City; Misael and Elma Moreno and I responded in jest “take us with you” He opened the door and de repente!, while Ben and I were busy with our lives, focused on what mattered, like our marriage, the opportunity was before us. Like a whirlwind, the possibilities were stirring me up. Sera posible? When we talked that night, Ben was trying to slow me down, travel plans were not that easy to make, we needed to think about it first.  Pero, before we knew it, we were scrambling to find a family connection and rescheduling his clients. They were willing to wait for their house to be painted. Maybe we would also go to Jalisco? The obstacles were cleared out of the way, and we shopped for good deals on flights. 

The state of Mexico was our first stop. Our missionary couple needed some good ole fashion connection with their church family. I was excited to meet face to face some of the people I had been praying for. I had not expected to get connected with my Mesoamerica roots and before I knew it I was visiting the pyramids in Teotihuacan! 

Finalmente, I went to Jalisco. It had been over 40 years since I’d been to Guadalajara, the land of El Tapatio. there I would reconnect with mi familia.

I was anxious to visit Etzatlan  and El Amparo, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like, what would I see that connected me to my parents? I worried that at the last minute that part of the trip would be canceled, what torment that was! I hoped to see traces of the famoso  American Mining Company, the builders of my apas hometown.

En conclusíon:

Quizas it is silly that to me “going to Mexico” was such a big deal, people travel all the time, plans are just a click away. Yo soy ranchera, I get timid and I fall prey to fear. For me this trip was a pilgrimage. I uncovered some secrets, I found some missing pieces of my parents story, and even better I met family members I’ve never known. Finally, I am able to put a setting to some of the stories my apa told me.

A veces we pray, forgetting that our prayers, our petitions and our desires matter to God. In his timing He answered my prayer. There is a wealth of treasure that I came back home with and I’m excited to share my treasure and get back on track with my book writing. 

Gathering New and Old Memories in Guadalajara

Since my days with my apa, a desire, more than just a dream, has been alive in me. I have wanted to go to Guadalajara Jalisco in Mexico. I want to see where my parents grew up and connect with my familia in Guadalajara. ¡Se me ha concedió!

The last time I was in Guadalajara was when I was 15 years old. And the only time I went further into Mexico than Tijuana was with Ben on our honeymoon to Mazatlán. Entonces, Mexican-American girl, went to Mexico. Así muy ranchera, timid about my Spanish which is mostly Spanglish, I went. My familia in Guadalajara kept saying “Que dices?” every time I slipped and “Spanglished” ¡Hijole! This strong Latina woman was too aware of my American accent, but I forged on. This trip was an answer to my prayer.

Beautiful memories were made as I visited my fathers youngest sister. Tía Consuelo is now 79 and fighting hard to stay at peace at home, her mind is betraying her. Then, I visited my apas closest brother’s family. Tio Antonio was 94 when he passed away in 2020 just before my apa. I was nervous about visiting his wife, Tia Camilla and her kids, mis primas. Tía Camilla is 96, and in a pretty good mental state. I love the friendly open manner in Mexican culture. “Mi casa es su casa” is practiced with such gracious love. I felt welcomed and the energy of reconnection was felt. Maggi, my cousin, is the primary caregiver to Tia Camilla and I compared notes about the brothers, our fathers. She truly wanted to know how Tio Manuel (that’s my apa) had lived. She wanted to know if my apa was as stiff and awkward about hugs and love like her dad, from my experience the Zepedas are a pretty awkward bunch as far as hugging and public displays of affection go, yet we are fierce about love and loyalty.

It was a wonderful reunion. I hope to stay connected, technology has removed many of the obstacles. 

I have walked away with some treasures and I’m going to share some with you here.

How to Get the Girl the Old Fashioned Way

Since we’re not so past El día del amor y amistad, I want to share a sweet short version of my tio Antonio and Camilla’s Cupid moment. This was her account. 

My apa and his brother  Antonio were on their way home from el Norte. The small colonia was buzzing with excited young ladies, they knew the hermanos were coming. Tía Camilla said that they all seemed hopeful to capture one of those brothers. She didn’t include herself in the “race” but her eyes twinkled at the memory. 

Camilla had an edge over the other girls since she was a favorite of my abuela Rosario. They both loved to garden and Camilla was always available for her when her flowers needed watering.

When Manuel and Antonio arrived, I imagine them walking very confidently with money in their pocket with the Levi jeans swag, Camilla was quietly present as they made their way around town toward the place where everyone gathered for swimming. Hijole! I forgot to ask her more details, like what did that look like. As I’m writing the warm fuzzy feelings of a love story are filling in all those details she left out. 

One day as Camilla was preparing food for selling at her puesto, she looked out her kitchen window y de repente she saw them. Here’s how I imagine the scene, cómo las películas. When she saw the two brothers were heading her way she made sure to be noticed. Antonio noticed and after a while he came to her window and asked, “aren’t you going to offer me something to eat?” “Pásale, come in” she told him.  She looked at me with that twinkle in her eye “after that we continued our courtship” and added a little later “All the girls were hoping to get their attention. Pero, mi and Chuy (mi ama) got it” These two sister inlaws became dear friends later. Tía remembered that Antonio never left al Norte again, “Que bonitos recuerdos son” She quietly appreciates the memories she has.

They were married for over 60 years, they had 14 children and raised 9.

En conclusión:

I am not going to lie, I was disappointed I wanted more, much more details, like how did you “feel” when you saw Antonio? Pero pues, I loved seeing her eyes twinkle with a smile as she remembered her youth which included my apa and ama and I’m grateful to have this little nugget for my treasure chest.

How to handle a Pocha experience

When I was young, I was called a Pocha, and through the years, occasionally, I’ve felt the sting of that reproach at times. Pocha Is a derogatory name used by “real” Mexicans who speak  “good Mexican Spanish” when they refer to Mexican-Americans, that would include me, who either do not speak Spanish at all or speak it “bad” and topped with an accent. 

Pocho, is  just a Spanish (Spain) word that refers to fruit gone bad or discolored fruit. If you will allow me to be dramatica. So the tree (Mexican parents) sprouted fruit in the United States and that fruit (the children) was compromised. Hijole, it faded into American culture and it is now Pocho/a. Native Mexicans will hear a Spanish word spoken by Mexican Americans and know that we are “del otro lado”. The other side being the U.S. Y pues, it happened to me again, I was found out!

Just the other day,  I got a surprise notification from my dear friend Raquel. She was coming with her family to Tijuana Mexico; aka TJ. It was a tedious business trip but she was hoping to plug in family and friend time while she was so close. In haste we scrambled, changing work schedules to make the time for our short reunion. We were off to Mexico!  My husband has his google maps Siri set to an English accent, entonces, trying to understand her as she pronounced the Spanish street names was confusing, pero, thank goodness that while I listened with a critical ear, he was following the map. Between the English accented Spanish names and my “watch out Ben” he managed to avoid the aggressive lunch traffic drivers and arrive at the meeting place on time, without a scratch or dent. Our heart rate settled pretty quickly, especially since it was a short drive. We met in a nice quiet restaurant in Zona Rio; River Zone, located in the modern business district of Tijuana Mexico.

Yo si hablo español, the Mexican American “off brand” spanish. Usually, I don’t pay attention to the way I speak it, except when native Mexicans notice it. De repente, I was stumbling and apologizing for my spanish. 

There we all were, Ben and I, with the Munoz and extended family.  I was giddy with the prospect of a good visit, catching up and just enjoying the time. I showered her with my Spanglish, she responded in perfect Spanish, it is always very harmonious. When our husbands are with us, we throw in enough English to keep Ben in the loop of the conversation. That afternoon I did have to translate since Raquel’s mom was with us, she doesn’t speak English. No problem, it’s what I’ve done for 34 years. Vez, Ben no habla español. The waitress brought the menus and all was well until I didn’t understand one of the words she used! In my defense, she was wearing a mask. Masks muffle the voice, pero I definitely understood her “eye language” and mannerisms. Imediatamente, she was cold. She was impatient with me, choosing instead not to speak to me! Like I was too silly to understand. Por supuesto, that the self defense mechanism shot up when I’m in “defense” mode I think and speak English. In this case it made it worse. Hay si! Que sangrona verdad? Maybe I seemed like a rude,stuck up, “I think I’m better than you” Pocha in her eyes? Pero I kept this drama to myself, I didn’t want to make a scene by confronting it.  That strong latina woman in me rises up 😬 But in reality what I felt was, “Back up! Why do you judge me because of my broken Spanish? I’m doing my best!” Could it have been that she didn’t understand me? 😲 In any case, it got rude on both sides, it was all in Spanish and eye language which I thought only I was sensing. 

Lea, Raquel’s sister, felt the tension and recognized that common “Pocha judgment”  and stepped in to save the day. She strategically commented on the “not so good service” which did catch the waitress’s ear. Then, she gently explained what I already knew. Lea said “Rosy, es que. tu español, pues…” she said that my Spanish is ok but noticeably accented. She said that with an apologetic tone. It had uncovered that I come from the other side. But, I wasn’t trying to cover anything up? She explained that there is a mindset that Mexicans have about Mexican Americans. Some Mexicans assume that when Mexican Americans choose not to speak Spanish, they are Pochos, with a  pompous attitude that says “I’m Americana.”  Some Mexicans will sarcastically say “Con el nopal en la frente” “with a cactus on their forehead” The cactus is a prominent Mexican symbol. El dicho  implies that while Mexican Americans drop their Mexican roots, they can’t drop their ethnic look, dark skin and indian features.  It’s what I knew already, it’s a wrong assumption, but it’s what I’d felt before. What do you say to that? I was just glad that neither Raquel nor Lea had ever rolled their eyes at my broken Spanish with the gringo accent.

Thankfully, that whole incident ended well, The waitress heard the complaint and was nice again and I chose not to be offended. I ordered my meal using my Spanglish, feeling very Mexican, and we all enjoyed a great time. 

That Pocha experience was another reminder to me that I needed to affirm other Mexican Americans, or multiracial people, like my own kids, who attempt to use their Spanish or Spanglish. I needed to stop chuckling when their attempts sounded “off” and instead help them and fan their desire to practice Spanish speaking. After all, it’s a beautiful language!

My ama tried plenty of times to learn English and she struggled, to the point of tears at times. Learning a second language is not easy, even when the need and desire is there. Y, mi esposo, that cold blooded Englishman,  hasn’t been too motivated to learn Spanish as a second language. A common denominator for both has been the easy access to translators, why learn, just have your translator interpret it all for you.

Learning a language when you are chiquita makes a huge difference. When I was little I spoke only Spanish, immersed in it, it was my amas rule, something I can truly appreciate now. Then when I was five, in kindergarten, I learned to speak English very quickly. When my kids came along, I wanted them to learn Spanish, but it was hard to speak Spanish to them consistently. Ben only spoke English, I thought in English, besides, by then it was my first language. I found the help I needed when they turned five years old.  My great resource was the Spanish Immersion school I sent them to. Entonces, hispanic moms, some unsolicited advice is, try to teach them while they’re chiquitos.

Having both languages is a great asset, but if you don’t have both, it’s ok. If you speak a second language mas o menos, good for you!  échale ganas! 

Our Multicultural Christmas Memories

The other day, while we were working on Christmas projects, I asked my younger sons when people ask you what ethnicity you are, what do you say? I wanted to know. After a quick glance at me, like I was confused or forgetful, they both responded, almost simultaneously “White and Mexican.” Y pues I smiled because it’s exactly what our American family is and they embraced it! 

My cold blooded Englishman and I, his strong Latina woman, have accepted God’s gift of hope and salvation; Jesus. We use the tools he’s provided. We have worked hard at building our life, home and family and with time, our differences; race, culture, economic status and traditions have blended well together. It has helped that our similarities; Born Again Christians and American have kept us united. We’ve pulled into our own family the traditions from our childhood and created some of our own and our kids gobbled up the moments. They rejoiced, especially during the Christmas season.

I have to admit, at first it was awkward to hear about Ben’s Christmas fun. Hijole, I don’t want to sound like “que pobrecita” but it’s just that it was foreign to me. How was a mom able to give so much time to a project with the kids? I would immediately chalk it up to something “los gringos ricos” did. See, I had never seen my apa or brothers get involved with Christmas details, it had to be something that only the rich white people did. Ben talks about things I only saw en la tele. Somehow, instead of telling me about his Christmas traditions, he practiced them with me. 

Our first year of marriage, we weren’t sure how Christmas should be handled so we bought a little mini fake tree and put it on our coffee table. Por supuesto que, the traditional tamales and champurrado meal would be our first Christmas experience, I was sure of that much at least. Then, the following year Ben announced that we must have a real Christmas tree. Como? Could our tight budget be so extravagant? We didn’t pull out our mini tree so for much of the season we didn’t have a tree up, they were just too expensive. Then one day very close to the end of Christmas he passed a lot that was closing up. To his delight he got a medium size tree for a clearance price and his Christmas tradition was fulfilled. Decorations were scant, as I look back now, it was like Little House On The Prairie and their humble Christmases. A real live Christmas tree! beautiful! I was comforted and hooked on this tradition.

This opened the door for him to introduce other sweet traditions at Christmas,most of them I have enjoyed and continued, like decorating the house, filling Christmas stockings and sourdough pancakes on Christmas morning. Pero, one that was too much for my uncreative mind was the gingerbread houses. Hijole! I felt the pressure, so I attempted to make a gingerbread house with my kids. Pero, I kept it real, like the other side of the tracks real! Graham crackers, candy canes, marshmallows and frosting, after tons of frosting to hold the casita together, I called it a day when it was barely standing. Ben’s gingerbread house recollection was quite different. His eyes lit up when I asked him to tell me about his casita. 

First they designed their house on paper, like their architect father would have. Their Gingerbread house was elaborately laid out on a cookie sheet covered with powdered sugar icing for snow. They made walls from rolled out gingerbread cookie dough, glued together with melted caramel candy. The house had windows covered with shutters made also of gingerbread cookie dough, as well as a chimney.The roof had Hershey’s M&Ms for shingles. The trimming of the house was lined with gum drops. Luego, out in the yard, asi es, they erected a nice 3-dimensional tree, cut out with a tree shaped cookie cutter, painted with the powdered sugar icing and glued with the melted caramel. Green gum drop bushes in the yard and the Gingerbread boy standing tall. After all that work and beautiful architecture, the end of the holiday season came and then, Ben and his brothers were allowed to rip pieces off the house and eat them. Chunks of cookies, caramel and chocolate candy was their demolition delight! Y ahora si, they opened gifts and then traveled to grandma’s house on Christmas day. All I can say is that I’m glad my kids were happy with their gingerbread sugar shack!

As much as I grumble about the constant activity and work, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The rush to order Christmas cards, Thomas and Cita’s baking marathon, my bread baking, decorations, tamales with my cuñada, the Ornament Exchange party, our Scrooge Dinner, Grammys cookies and of course los regalitos that do not go under the tree until Christmas morning. Es Navidad, and I love it!  At the end of every year, in December, I like to look back and see all that God has done for us and I love the whole reason for this season; Christ was born!

Feliz Navidad, y que Dios los bendiga.

Las Aventuras de Angel: Lessons From a New Culture and a New Language

Learning a second language is such a valuable skill y el español is a beautiful language. When I was a young mom, I knew I had to teach my children Spanish, it was important to me. But it was hard, because I think in English and I didn’t get much opportunity for daily Spanglish with my English speaking husband. By the time my first born was school age I had decided that the only way to teach him Spanish was to immerse him in the language, So I sent him to a Spanish immersion public school. By the end of his kinder year he was understanding Spanish and speaking it, although not fluently. I remember going to visit my apa and my little guerito was understanding his tata, I loved it! Mission accomplished…sort of, I mean he can go into Mexico and get by. Pues, language immersion was quite a different and difficult experience for my oldest brother Angel. 

Our apa took an opportunity given to him to immigrate his family and the Zepedas were immersed into the land of opportunity, los Estados Unidos. Coming from the border city of Mexicali, the language was familiar but now they would have to learn it. The culture in California was a mixture of “American” ways, the great American melting pot, un poquito de todo. The people, white, black and of various shades of brown weren’t always very accepting. Ya te imaginas, they were difficult transitions indeed!

My ama faced her culture shocks alone while the kids were at school all day, themselves facing their education in an unknown language, pero, it was what had to be done. Angel was thirteen, and that alone could be explosive. Picture those middle school challenges of your day but add a language barrier and culture shock. He faced them as well as a 13 year old could. He had always “handled his affairs” and helped Ama as much as possible, he didn’t want to burden our parents with his troubles. He faced and managed his new “language and cultural” immersion at school with hard work and pride.

 Angel was resourceful and pulled from the wealth of knowledge learned at home, at his previous school and in the streets of his colonia in Mexicali. 

His classroom beginnings were rough. Despite his age, he was placed in the younger kids classroom, chiquillos! When he was sharing this story I could hear the mortification in his tone as he said, “They put me in the younger class just because I didn’t know english yet.” He hadn’t been assessed, it had been the quick solution to new arrival immigrant kids from across the border. During math class one day, a very simple math test demonstrated his acquired knowledge but instead of using this to place Angel in a more appropriate classroom, the teacher assumed he had cheated. He separated him from the other students and made him retest. Angel, in his colorful descriptive language said, “It was a blankity blank, easy 6th grade test!” What the teacher considered hard math didn’t phase Angel as long as they weren’t word problems, those he couldn’t read yet. Angel dealt with this hurdle and proved himself beyond proficient in his math skills, but the bigger hurdle was the teacher’s mindsets. Angel’s perseverance didn’t put him in good graces with the teacher. By the ripe old age of 13, he had seen and experienced that sometimes teachers fall prey to favoritism which can skew a person’s vision.

Outside of the classroom the bullies came after him, the new kid. Thankfully, facing the ‘gangas’ in the streets had toughened his hide and prepared him for the new school. On the school bus he had to stand his ground, he didn’t understand the possible insults hurled at him, but he definitely understood the aggressive attempts to intimidate him and he wasn’t going to allow it. One day, just as he got off the bus, he was confronted simply because he wasn’t giving up his seat. It had come time to fight. He defended himself against the boys that came after him to the point that he cut one of them and drew blood. It was a fight for survival and Angel had prevailed only to face the principal who immediately assumed that he was the instigator. I wonder if he knew that it was a few boys against one?  In those days,  “corporate punishment” was allowed and the principal was ready to administer it, but Angel wasn’t going to allow this unfair treatment. My apa was summoned. He was called out from work, something he couldn’t afford, pero, his son was more important. He made it very clear to the principal that if corporal punishment was needed, he would take care of it. Our father believed that there are times when correction is needed as children are being trained up, but he also felt a need to advocate for his son and protect him.

Eventually he did learn the language. He loved reading comic strips. In Mexicali he had sold the popular Mexican magazines and here in America he discovered Archie and the gang. All their school age dramas proved educational for him. He turned the pages, at first just enjoying the images, then with time he was reading the story line.  

Along his “school days” journey he had picked up some things that he tucked into a pocket of his heart:

He knew he could count on our Apa for provision and protection y su amor.

He also reinforced his conviction that bullies must be dealt with, not avoided.

Finally, he discovered that in life you will meet all kinds of people, in all shades and sizes. Some good and some bad. There will be those that are foolishly fearful and ignorant, unwilling to recognize the potential of different people. He would not be one of those people. As an adult his truck driving experiences gave him an appreciation for diversity of people and cultures.

En Conclusion

Ya se que, these kinds of stories aren’t new, in Southern California, they’re even common experiences. Listening to my brother’s stories made me proud of him and la familia Zepeda. Hijole! I want more and more of our history in coming to America, and more of our stories of our contribution in civil rights. Living our part of the American dream has come with some cost. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from my big brother Angel and that he paved the way for our siblings and for me. 

A Wife For Emery

Hijole! My son is engaged. He turns 25 and mira lo que pasa.

The Engagement time can be intense. I think my family, as in my kids, are  looking at me and wondering how I’m doing? Pero mira, I’ve been there and done that, this time it’ll be easy peasy.

I mean, it’s not like I’m losing my son verdad? Just keep reminding yourself of that Rosalba and you’ll stay on the Gods straight and narrow. 

My first two engagement seasons were rough. Heck! Just having my kids enter adulthood at 18 rocked my world. My first born moved out at 19 and I cried…and I cried for several weeks. Daniella had to remind me that I had 3 more kids to raise, que verguenza, sorri Daniella y gracias, you were very brave and patient with your strong latina mother. Mi hija wasn’t 18 and she was being noticed as  good marriage stock! What fear entered my world during those days. Ten years as a mother-inlaw has matured me 😀 I hope, well, I’m praying for sure.

Before Mo

Almost from the time that Emery put on the adult hoodie he changed and rearranged things, without asking my permission! Atrevido! Suddenly he was Ben, que? That name; Benjamin Emery Greene was supposed to be used silently, like in signatures and applications, I thought he knew that. Then he moved out to semi independence. He went to live with his newly wed primo! Thankfully it was a wonderful experience and it strengthened the chords of friendship for all three of them.  

He enjoyed his singleness and maximized as much as he could afford to do all that his heart desired, within the boundaries of his born-again boundaries. But the desire for marriage stirred always in his heart.


After our January bible conference in 2020 mi hijo called me, he had a specific prayer request, and that was “Ma pray with me to find a wife” Obviously it wasn’t just any girl, it was one that was equally yoked and then his list of “desires in a woman” I guess some people were telling him he was being too picky. Huh? Is it possible to be too picky in choosing or finding a lifelong partner? Is it foolish to search but wait on God? And when you think you’ve found the one for you, is it silly to expect the change of heart rate just by their presence? 

So we brought our very specific petition to God, not just him and I, but the family agreed with him. While he prayed he sought with eyes wide open and God answered our prayer.

En conclusion:

God has given me so much pleasure and increase as a mother of these Greene kids. With all my heart I congratulate my Emery and welcome his Mo into our lives and hearts. Que Dios los bendiga And may His will continue first in your lives. 

Thank you to Monique Prado @embracethedetour for these beautiful photos.

Crossing The International Border

I’ve been having alot of conversations with my cuñada Maria. She’s married to my oldest brother Angél.  We’ve been talking about everything from childhood, to cooking, to travesuras, those daring exploits my lil brother Hector did and scared my ama half to death. We’ve also talked about our experiences in Mexicali. Quizas, I’m also thinking of Mexicali since I’ll be visiting the border city of Calexico, Ca. soon.  

Chinese Food In Mexicali

Mexicali, in Baja California Mexico was the last stop just before my apa brought his family to California in the U.S. My parents lived there for a few years and they grew accustomed to it. When dad brought his family to live in America, they still crossed the border into Mexico almost every weekend to do some of their business and socializing. My ama preferred to do her shopping there. She was able to converse and haggle about prices, while we hit the street vendors and looked over the goodies they sold. My apa enjoyed the cocteles de camarón, I loved the mango on a stick with chile y limon, and we all loved the candy, but my ama loved la comida China. 

Asi es, Mexicali has a large Chinese population, which probably grew larger when the railroads were completed and the irrigation system project established. My mother looked forward to our Saturdays in Mexicali, but sitting down to eat Chinese food with her family was an especially wonderful treat for her, not to mention that we loved it too. The chop suey, the red carnitas, the egg patties and the fortune cookies still linger in my memory. Pero, once in a while when we had to hurry to get to the linea to cross the border we did stop for a delicious hamburguesa in Calexico, Ca. These hamburgers were traditionally American, embellished just perfectly, with tomate, lechuga and pickles, then topped with a jalapeno chile to make them a great Spanglish burger served with fat papas fritas that we covered in catsup! It was another favorite. 

The Vendors En La Linea

Ok, back to my memory. One Saturday we had to get back home quickly. There was no time for treats that day. The line moved along slowly. We avoided eye contact with the kids and moms asking for money, we didn’t know what to do about them, but we loved the vendors who displayed their artesenias, there was always something new in their beautiful crafted work, but our ama was rarely impressed. We were not supposed to look at them either because if we stared too long the vendor would come running to our window. We loved it and did it on purpose, without fail it just got us scolded. 

Our family was mixed as far as immigration. Dad, mom and my older siblings had to show their resident alien cards, green cards, but my lil brother and I just had to say “American born” and the officer would ask us where we were born and a few questions in English and let us through. Easy peasy! Except for one day. That particular day, the officer asked to see our birth certificates. My mother emptied her purse and didn’t find the documents. Dad tried to explain the certificates were at home and simply apologized for the mistake. Nope! Not acceptable. A secundaria, to secondary where a full investigation would take place. First we had to get out of the car for the vehicle inspection. The officer talked to my father and through an interpreter to my mother.  No amount of explanations, apologies or other proof of residency changed the verdict. The bottom line was that he would have to prove that their last two kids were American born. So dad left us there at the border and he took the rest of my siblings home. Our family separated to find the needed documents. I was always a big chicken when I felt tension, my lil brother was busy looking at everything and my ama wasn’t too happy about the whole deal. Those couple of hours were pretty long, I never wanted to be stuck in secundaria again! 

Los “American Born”

Imaginate my flashback! Boy does history repeat itself! Thirty years later,  we had our two youngest boys; with us at the international border, this time in Tijuana, Mexico. Emery was about 7 and Thomas was about 2 years old. Hijole! We had rushed out of the house, I barely remembered to grab my “birth certificate” wallet and we went to Mexico. It was a late night as we returned home, the line was not horrific, we inched through it in just about an hour and half. By the time we reached the officer it was late. The boys were knocked out and I wasn’t ready with the documents, strike 1! Then I couldn’t find the birth certificates, I had accidentally grabbed the pouch that carried their immunizations. Strike 2! I explained, my husband explained, he peered in at the boys, they were knocked out, he could not stir them awake, strike 3! Off to secondary. Before they had us get out of the vehicle I tried shaking the boys awake, then the officer tried again. This time, Emery, the oldest of the two groaned, the officer asked “what’s your name? But Emery just moaned. Oh no! I snapped “Emery, wake up!” He asked again. This time Emery whined and said “I don’t know” Oh my gosh! He was delirious, y ahora?! Meanwhile Thomas just moaned. Ben was frantically calling friends so they could go to the house and get the birth certificates. Then, the officer asked, do you have a family picture? You all would think, Of course every mother has a family picture in her wallet, verdad? Bad mother! Bad mother! SMH is how the officer looked at me. Then the heavens opened up and Ben found a family picture in his paint splattered wallet. There we were the happy Greene’s. By this time almost another hour had passed and they hadn’t gotten us out of our vehicle yet so the officer scolded us about our carelessness and explained that many children are stolen and drugged to get them across the border, he had to be sure that they were truly ours, by now Emery was waking up and answering questions. What a scary moment. What an ugly reality of that kind of danger. 

The Things I Learned in Secundaria

I can only finish this post with a reminder of a few things I find important:

Don’t leave home and go into another country without your documents!

Be ready to show them when you’re asked.

Carry a family photo. 😀

And be grateful to the God of the universe! He always makes a legitimate way to help his children.

The Picture that Ben carried in his wallet

Middle School Life

The Middle School Volcano:

Miriam Webster defines volcano with these words “a vent in the crust of the earth or another planet or a moon from which usually molten or hot rock and steam issue” and  “something of explosively violent potential”  Doesn’t that sound like the Middle School experience? Verdad que si? Just ask any 6th, 7th or 8th grader, they’ll tell you how hard it is, IF you can get them out of their sullen state. My middle school initiation was perhaps the worst ever! A 6th grader is supposed to be the top dog in elementary school. You know, the ones everyone looks up to. I was ready for my time to shine in that place. 

Leaders of the Middle School

Back in the ancient days of the 70s, in my little town of Calipatria, the classroom announcements for the new school year was a huge deal. It was both an exciting and nerve racking time, I mean our happiness rested on who was gonna be our teacher and if my current best friend would sit in the desk next to us. 

The hot scorching desert sun could not stop us from that mile-long walk across the tracks. We rushed past the gas station, the grocery store, the laundromat, the Bank of America, the Circle K, park and library. Our sun scorched skin simply soaked in more sun. We had to know what our future held. This was an exciting time for me and my sister Patty, she was gonna be in 8th grade, imaginate! Even though I would barely see her around I was so proud of her, 8th grade, wow! Y pues, I was sorta following in her steps, 6th grade, a big kid in the elementary level, I needed this promotion.

Z is for Last in Line

Zepedas were ALWAYS at the bottom of the list. Last in line, y porque? Totally not fair! But it was so. My eyes automatically went to the bottom of the lists for our names. Pattys homeroom teacher was Mr. Carter. Hijole! That’s the one she didn’t want, she said he was mean. I wondered what a homeroom was? 

Imaginate my dismay when I did not see my name in either 6th grade classes. Maybe I flunked? Que verguenza to do 5th grade again? No que muy Honor Roll student, what would my friends say about me? And my apa, oh no…

Then, I saw a whole new class was posted, my name, Rosalba Zepeda was found at the bottom of that list. A hybrid class with both 6 and 7th graders. Que? A mixed class? Porque? Mrs. Lara was gonna be my new teacher. She was kinda different because she had married Mr. Lara and he was Mexican-American. She was white! I had never seen that! I didn’t even know that was allowed. Mrs. Lara was new to our school and a new wife and new to a mixed classroom.  Was the school  experimenting with us? Was there no place for people with Z names or new teachers who dared step out of the box? 

The walk home was long and hot, I was burning up. My friends didn’t know what to think, they all had their names on the 6th grade roster. Patty was too angry about her homeroom teacher to feel bad for me because I was gonna be in that weird hybrid class.

My Middle School Hybrid Class

When September rolled around, I was tense. My classroom was out in a bungalow separate from the middle schoolers and also separate from the elementary kids. I felt like we were deserted, I wonder if Mrs. Lara felt the same? Was my class a 6th grade class or a 7th grade class? I had decided I was going to take my ‘big kid’ roll anyway, those 7th graders weren’t going to boss me around. I entered the class room looking confident, but feeling nervous. I picked my desk in front of the class. I didn’t want to test the 7th grade cool kids, besides I still had an honor roll reputation to uphold. It was going to be a long year. Here’s are the things that are bookmarked in my memory for that mixed year:

  • I sat on my desktop and broke it!! Asi es, right in the front row for all to see, just before Mrs. Lara had called the class to quiet down, I was confidently sitting on my desktop table when all of a sudden, crack! I went down a notch. I managed to jump off as everyone laughed but the humiliation almost killed me. Mrs. Lara didn’t laugh.
  • During recess, I made a stand to keep my victory in the game of Caracol and paid dearly for it. The 7th grader leader decided I wasn’t worth her acquaintance so everyone else followed her lead. I was marked as the target the entire hybrid 6th grade year. When girls decide to be mean, hijole! Cuidate!. Needless to say, it was a lonely year. Mrs. Lara saw the separation, and was on my side.
  • This bookmark will probably be red flagged. It happened like this. One day during PE our class got to participate in a softball game with the mighty 8th graders. That meant I was gonna be with Patty! Yes! Those rare moments in school when you get to be close to one of your big sisters and feel real safe and secure. Softball wasn’t Patty’s strength, but some of her other peers, like the catcher was a superstar. Patty was feeling her disdain every time she went to the plate. Her class was losing. She was sick and tired of the “trash talk” She walked to plate and positioned herself to bat. The catcher cried out “She’s no batter” She gripped that bat, ready to kill that ball. Strike! And she tensed, poised. “Strike Two!” the catcher taunted as she swung and missed. Her lips thinned and began to get dark purple. That was always a sign to me that I had gone past the point of no return and she was gonna kick my butt! To top it off my enemies laughed and taunted her and me. I held my breath. The catcher pricked her one last time “she’s no batter, strike three!” Patty didn’t even look at the ball being pitched, she swung and struck out. Without missing a beat, she threw her bat down. She turned around and confronted the catcher, throwing her to the ground making her face her taunting words, the volcano had exploded, the pressure of 8th spewed out. We all ran to the plate and surrounded the girls, the chatter and provoking challenges “Don’t let her get away with that” were smothered as the teachers put a quick end to the fight. Mr. Carter easily lifted both girls and walked them to the principal’s office. Somehow some pressure had been lifted off me. I looked at my arch enemy and dared her with my eyes to mess with me again. It would be a giant I would eventually have to face in middle school, pero, for the moment, I felt invincible, that was my big sister, I dared anyone to mess with her.

En Conclusion:

Those experiences shape us as adults. It’s not “just” puberty. We experience that humiliation that helps keep our heads from getting too big later in life. We learn how to empathize and notice when someone isn’t being treated fairly or when someone feels left out because we’ve been there before. And when we look that bully in the eye and make a stand, we learn that we can over come anything.

Middle School is not an easy time, I’m sure everyone has their stories of fear and rejection. If you’ve got a child in middle school, remember those days and use them to help your kid make it and maybe even thrive.

Halloween in Imperial Valley

Halloween always creeps up on me and it has always been a sticky tricky day for me. When I was a little girl in Imperial Valley, I had to do what I could to make it fun. Then as an adult I tried to ignore the day as much as possible, like my ama tried.  Imposible! kids don’t let you ignore it. One of the biggest candy hoarding days of the year, parents need to recognize, verdad que si? 

Planning Halloween 

As a little girl, it was the one holiday that I rallied for as far as dressing up. Don’t get me wrong, I was not trying to be a princess or any silly girly character. But the unwritten and unspoken rule was that to trick or treat you had to be in costume. I would start working on my mom and sisters a few days ahead. I needed three things to make my day a success. Primero, I needed permission and a chaperone or partner to go out and knock on doors for candy. Luego, I needed money for the yearly carnival and finally, I needed a costume. Halloween was up to me, my ama didn’t highlight the day in any way shape or form. She kind of dreaded the day, because all the kids in the barrio knew she had her tiendita, and they expected some great candy from her store. Halloween almost always meant bankruptcy for her negocio.

The week before Halloween the kids were talking about what they were gonna dress up as, or what costumes their mom had bought them. I was always embarrassed that I wasn’t getting a cool costume so every year I said I wasn’t dressing up. Every year I said it was dumb and every year I didn’t mean it. Y cada ano I’d give into the pull of trick or treating. 

Now that I think about it, my ama  always enjoyed my silly chicanadas that I called costumes. I would jimmy rig a costume mostly out of my apas clothes and get into my sister’s makeup. Que one year a baby, another year a hobo, a fat man, a farmer. Basically the same idea always with a different name.

Photo by Daisy Anderson on

12 Year Old Transition

In small towns I think growing up and getting to that serious behavior that a 12 year old should have, takes a little longer. I was not serious about growing up and morphing into a teenager. I didn’t care much about being cool, I couldn’t start thinking of makeup, gracias a Dios! Wearing Makeup was taboo for us younger girls.Silly boys weren’t noticing me yet. Pero, I was real serious about getting lots of candy. 

One particular year, I had secured permission and a partner to trick or treat, my sister Patty was gonna keep an eye on me. I always had to work extra hard on begging and pleading with Patty. She hated taking care of me, she was already in that cool teenage age and walking clear across town to trick or treat was not cool!  I promised to give her a lot of candy and quien sabe what else I promised, but in the end I prevailed upon her. 

DIY Costumes

All I had left to create was my costume for my night of fun and candy.  I had the same old options so I think I decided on a combo costume of an old fat hobo man, muy original verdad? Being giddy with excitement I decided to go extra on the fat and stuffed my pants and shirt, bien exagerada, I could barely move. I was ready, with my big bag on hand, we left. The getting to the carnival part is a fuzzy memory, I’m guessing that somebody gave us a ride there because I can’t imagine Patty agreeing to all that work. Anyway, we were at the carnival for a short time since my pocket book was very light. It didn’t matter to me anyway, I was anxious to trick or treat a lot of kids already all over town, I didn’t want to miss out. 

To maximize on trick or treating candy you have to have a lot of energy and a good plan. Patty wasn’t interested in the plan I had mapped out in my head. She gave me one option. Leaving the school grounds and walking past the middle school and the elementary school, all connected, then turning left would land me on the West side. Going further, past the Circle K then turning right going several blocks further got me to the Rich side of town. Guess what Patty was pushing for? She was getting crabby and I was getting anxious, especially since I was pretty slow with my fat man costume. The padding kept creeping down my leg, almost tripping me. I kept having to re-stuff myself and hold on to my backside to keep the pillow from falling out. 

El Cucuy

But God had mercy on me and we got to several houses that gave lots of candy before she headed us toward home. I milked it as much as I could knocking on doors as we made our way home. I was whiny and grunting and she was so mad that I had tricked her into doing this, we were both pretty tired by the time we reached the railroad tracks. Suddenly our senses were very alert and we had to put off our tired feelings, and watch out for danger, of the El Cucuy kind. We were on Mainstreet, it was way too dark to take the shortcut. Huge semi trucks occasionally passed by and we so appreciated the bright lights those trucks flashed, we stayed dangerously close to the pavement, hugging it. I, the “fat man” was behind Patty and every time I heard crackling, or scraping sounds, I was sure El Cucuy was behind me, I couldn’t turn around, it would be my demise, so I quietly whined, hating my sissy lala emotions.  I’m not the hugging type, but that night I was ready to pounce on my sister for support. Talk about a Halloween nightmare on Mainstreet, hijole! Crossing the tracks and walking that long dark road just before we saw the houses of the barrio was maybe a 10 minute walk but my stuffing and the darkness made it the longest walk ever. Suddenly, I could appreciate why my ama banned us from being out at night. Halloween was one of the few exempted days and I wondered why that day was ok? We walked fast as I was trying to keep my belly intact. 

It wasn’t too late in the night, but those railroad tracks and the empty lots made it the perfect scene in a scary movie, I had imagined it all in those few minutes. Such relief flooded us when we entered  the safety of our barrio. Kids were still out and about and Patty loosened up. I took advantage and knocked on a couple more doors in my hood. All was well that Halloween. Pero que susto!


We got home exhausted. I tossed my hefty candy bag onto the table, happy with my loot. Oh how sweet home was. I plopped myself down on the chair in the dining room, I was coming undone. So as I was pulling the stuffing out of me my ama was laughing at the image I created.

Ama: Como te fue?

Me: Ama, fue el día más feliz de mi vida!

My mother let out a gleeful carcajada.. Her way of laughing started from the bottom of her belly and rolled out past her mouth. I loved to make her laugh, it was always so contagious. She had  quite a laugh out loud moment.

 Counting all my worldly experiences of all my 12 years of living, I had declared, this had been the happiest day of my entire existence. I had already forgotten the pain in the butt it had been to walk. El Cucuy didn’t come for me, the tracks and all my fears were forgotten. 


I was pretty proud of myself whenever she told the story of my “happiest day of my life”. I’m so happy to have that treasure in my vault. The contagious laughter has carried on through her grandson Jonathan, everytime he has that LOL gut roaring laughter I remember my feisty ama.

What is your favorite trick or treating memory?