Mexican-American Girl Goes East

I’m going to tell you about my New England connection, si pues, this Mexican-American has a few stories and an array of emotions as I discovered Bens gringo world. Nowadays it’s nothing new to find one of mi gente on the East Coast, but back in the mid 80s when I started the brown Mrs. Greene journey I really felt all alone. 

Mixing cultures and social economic lives did add to my conundrum. Hay si, muy gringa, with my big english words verdad?

So I’ll have to go back to the time before the fireworks display of our engagement. 

Having been in San Diego Ca. only a year and a half, the melting pot of cultures intimidated me. My upbringing, with the unspoken but obvious boundaries made me shun gringos. White guys didn’t notice me, I certainly wasn’t going to notice them. Period. 

An Interracial Relationship

You can imagine the incredible turmoil and betrayal I experienced when I noticed my Benjamin! A White guy from New England!? Not even a tanned Californian! Of course I rejected the idea for a season and moved on… and went back…and moved on…but eventually the fireworks burst out the wonderful colorful display of our young love and promise. A hopeful new beginning like God’s promise through the rainbow, a much needed display that sealed the deal.

Jesus People Wedding

Benjamin Walter Greene and I were married in a “Jesus People wedding”. I looked around for a definition of our kind of ceremony and couldn’t find one, so instead of google defining or describing our wedding I will. Our wedding ceremony centered around Jesus instead of the bride. Right in the middle of our Sunday morning worship service the bride comes in. No grand procession of walking the aisle. Doesn’t that sound just right for me? If you’ve read some of my other posts you’ll note that I’m a simple girl. A simple wedding was just my stilo but for some brides, or mother of the brides, it’s a huge deal! Hijole

We heard the good news of the Gospel, pledged our hearts and lives to our marriage covenant with a resounding I do. We broke bread with our families, sweet and simple, the honeymoon awaited us. Then, we stepped into the twilight zone of our mixed marriage, well mostly I travelled by myself because for some reason Ben was not tripping! 

Our First Year of Marriage

It was a first year full of fireworks, mourning and hormones, asi es, explosive! My ama had just passed in May, I learned I was pregnant in June and we were scheduled to fly out to the East Coast in July. My life was already upside down and I was going clear across the country to the other coast, Pacific to Atlantic! A whole new world. 

Ben was excited! He couldn’t wait to show me his childhood home and life. As the weeks drew closer he showed me again pictures of his family home in Connecticut, a house his architect father had designed. However, for the Greene/Torrey Family, the real treasure is the family estate home, which is called the Manse. Yes, the houses have names! Manse means the residence of a minister. 

Ben told this little desert girl with barely any roots in America that his family traced back ancestors to England and the Mayflower! Que hiba pensar? So many levels of OMGs!

I accused Ben calling him an Aristocrat! A cold blooded Englishman! My son Emery would say white privilege! Rico! Y yo? No wonder mi apa was very nervous about us marrying. Of course, this is what was causing my nausea. Ben needed to go alone on his voyage to see his family.

Facing My Fears

Everything I had feared was gonna happen to me now! How could Ben make me go? How could Ben leave me all alone? How could Ben even think of going at all? Wasn’t he supposed to leave his family and cleave to me, his wife? I didn’t think I could survive being surrounded by only English speaking people, who would I turn to? 

The East Coast

July came and we boarded our flight to New York City. If I was gonna go so far away I had to have someone familiar so we visited friends in NYC. I thought the Big Apple was for the rich and famous or for the peliculas, no movie, it was the real deal. This Mexican American played tourist in the big city, even if it was only a few days. We visited the Statue of Liberty, The Twin Towers and experienced New York pizza. We wanted to walk the streets of Spanish Harlem but didn’t feel confident enough, I guess my small town barrio experience wasn’t gonna cut it. The New York Ricans were the spanish speakers, sort of. I barely understood them and they said I spoke spanish like I was singing! Three days passed like the whirlwind and before we knew it  we were on a train for  Connecticut. Que aventura verdad? I didn’t realize that the adventure was going to slow down to a complete stop. Life in my husbands world was calm, very calm. It made my heart race, crazy huh?

Staten Island Ferry

A Quiet Vacation

Just getting out of the city quieted everything down, except for my thoughts. Bens mom met us at the train station, a quiet reunion and ride home. I was the only one who felt awkward, I’m glad I was in the backseat because I would have been awkwardly fishing for conversation topics. Right here is a good place to tell you that apart from coming from different worlds, Ben and I are complete opposites. I’m a talker, I’m noisy, I’m busy, I’m loud…he’s not. Wow! It was going to be a silent two weeks.

New England is beautiful. Man! I’m terrible about these types of details, I hope I can hang on to your attention here. Greenery, tall trees, lakes. Aver, see if this helps you see how I saw things. We drove down the narrow roads with tall trees on each side and looking far into the distance you almost felt like the trees were going to close you into a tunnel. Bien bonito, like in the movies. compare that to the dry desert view of the Imperial Valley 

Mosquitos

In the big city, with all the pollution and noise the mosquitoes didn’t bother me, but as soon as I stepped out of Nancys car, they welcomed my fresh blood. Ben says it’s that spicy latina blood that I bring from the West. 

The Architect and the Artist

Ben’s dad had designed the house in an H shape. Muy interesante. The tall pillars of the H were the main rooms and bedrooms. The horizontal pillar of the H had the bathrooms and laundry room. I haven’t lost you have I? One of the openings of the H was where the front door was, while the back deck covered the other opening of the H. The deck had been built with a tree planted in center for shade, eventually. It was quite serene, until my eye caught a little gargoyle propped over the roof’s edge. Although it was an artistic touch, it bothered me. Maybe el cucuy was supposed to keep Ben and his brothers in check?

Ben on the left and his brother Sam when the tree shade was barely growing

Right in the front yard was an old rusty tractor as decor. Where I’m from esos tractores were child’s play for us. Pero, on the East Coast antiques are a big deal. The house stood tall and serene in its natural wood. The living room and dining room had large wall size windows that overlooked a large field and pond.  It was truly a Good Housekeeping magazine scene. My mother in law was a multi talented artist and her home displayed her artistic hand.

Bens Childhood Home in Connecticut

This was all so new to me, I felt like I was in a museum and Ben was enjoying giving me a tour of his house. Things that were commonplace to him, were amazing to me. Like a windy staircase, como los ricos, that went down to the basement. Basement? Only in some of the books I read.

More large windows. Imaginate, in the bathroom! They could easily be peeked into from the dining room with it’s wall size windows. How in the world was I going to shower? Thankfully, my husband shared the secret for a comfortable shower time. Run your hot water, steam the windows then you could relax. I’m a bit indecisive on where I should include the fact that the bathroom door slid into the wall, they didn’t really secure shut. Pero Pues, I got through my first few days in New England without too much verguenza, thankfully, everytime I showered the windows stayed completely steamed and covered.

I’ll have to do a part two post on my first New England experience since I haven’t even described my Manse experience, you know the Greene/Torrey Estate house in New Hampshire? Es que, there’s so much reaction in this first visit. So many things we take for granted, like chile!  A meal without chile, Asi es! No chile whatsoever, not even tabasco sauce. Hijole! All you salsa and chile addicts are feeling me right now huh? This was only the beginning to my cultural shocks in the kitchen that I would experience.

My experiences would be considered “A first world problem” but as silly as it was, I had a lot of adjusting to do, I think it might be called assimilating? Chale! Nope, I would have to make some Mexican American contributions to my new family.

Next time I’ll take you to the Manse in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.

The Manse in Jaffrey NH

I would love to hear about your culture shocks or adjustments as you encountered other countries or cultures, even here in America.

Culture, Diversity and Coming of Age

Imperial Valley

Today I’m all about the melting pot, total give away with a name like Rosalba Greene right? But when I was growing up, in the California desert valley I didn’t know anything about it. In my small community, we had very little diversity. 

I come from the Imperial Valley, way down at the bottom of California, right at the edge of Mexico. If you cross the line you’re in Baja. Lots of Mexicans, and Mexican-Americans to pick from in El Valle Imperial. Small towns scattered throughout the region made social interactions comfortable. 

It’s what I was used to, surrounded by mi gente mostly, speaking our rapid sounding Spanish dialect.  Of course with the small elite group of whites; los Patrones who controlled the economy mostly through agriculture; we mostly spoke Spanglish, the official unofficial language.

California State Route 111 or as we called it, “El Ciento Once“, was the main route that led to the important cities. and it went right through The City of Calipatria, where the tallest flagpole in America stands. It has a reputation of being  bien chiquita, the warning was don’t blink or you’ll miss it! A “city” with a small population of almost 8,000.

The sembradores, piscadores, regadores and patrones drove the economy with agriculture and farming. How such a dry desert place produces such wealth in vegetable crops is incredible, although it didn’t really matter much to me then, I now realize it was our bread and butter. My Apa supported our family working as a regador, one English translation is irrigation technician. I guess it can be quite technical, once my dad was explaining how it was that he irrigated a field, or maybe it was how not to irrigate a field? Too little water will dry a crop, too much will drown the crop. Just the right measurement is needed, but when he used technical measurements he lost me.

Social and Economic divides

We sectioned off the city, not literally but within and gravitated to our comfort culture. It was like this, the East side across the tracks, where we lived. The West Side, where the town square rested, a good mile away from the tracks. Then there was the rich side where the whites lived. People of the same ethnic group with similar experiences, grouping together so naturally. This description is from almost 40 years ago, quizas ya cambio, maybe Valley folks are all mingled and mixed now.

Social life consisted of after school sports and the Friday night high school football game. Our special occasions included the perpetual quinceañeras on Saturday nights. I can only imagine what the rich white kids experienced. Horses, 4H club and other expensive hobbies. I really don’t know the kind of socializing that took place over there, my husband the Cold Blooded Englishman tells me he played tennis and went sailing (bien muy muy).

We all, Mexicans, Americans and Mexican-Americans crossed cultures and economic status on the 4th of July. We agreed that our fireworks displays were the best. Homecoming games were times of rallying together and getting that CIF championship! You know what’s crazy? All of a sudden, We were all cozy around each other, we all were one team, the Calipatria Hornets! I can hear the cheerleaders chanting “We are the Hornets, mighty mighty Hornets!” Then we all drifted back to our comfort cultures. 

Trophy Memories

It’s been nice remembering my days in Calipatria. Days when I shined as a volleyball player and walked the high school grounds with such confidence. I considered myself (though perhaps nobody else did) a good point guard in basketball, of course that was on the J.V. team as a junior! (the oldest player on the team). The sports banquets were always a bit awkward, but I loved that spotlight, especially when I won a trophy. Then, as my Senior year came to an end, and I was having to consider my future, I definitely never imagined that I would be anywhere else in the world.

Culture shock

I came to San Diego because I was accepted into UCSD, Third College. Pero como fue possible?! (My Puerto Rican friends would say, “Que fue?”) I was just as shocked! Submitting an application had been a last minute idea suggested by my volley coach; Miss George. I didn’t expect my immediate future to change so quickly, so completely through one application. I figured I would go to IVC– our community college and ease into adult life. When the letter arrived in the mail announcing this opportunity, it was time to tell my parents about it. 

Before I could settle down and enjoy my last summer as a kid, I found myself in San Diego, on campus with masses of students from all over the world! Summer Bridge was the program that helps students transition from kid school to hardball school, by the end of 4 weeks I should have crossed the bridge with experience and confidence. 

There I was, with my non-English speaking ama and my apa, refusing to speak his heavily accented English. We were completely disoriented on orientation day. That whole afternoon was a blur. I can now imagine what my poor mother must have felt as she said goodbye, leaving me all alone to face adulthood, with all those different people.

College Life

 One of the ice breakers we Mexican Americans use is Spanglish. Somehow it eases things up when talking to a new acquaintance to bust out your Spanglish, that is, if they speak Spanish. You can imagine what a relief it was for me to see other fellow Mexicans walking about the campus during orientation. As soon as I got close enough to one girl, I said “Estoy bien lost! Man! Ni se lo que estoy haciendo?!” She turned to look at me and said, “What?” She had no idea what I had said. I was on my own. Later, I found out that this girl was Mexican-American! Where did she leave her Spanglish? 

I was shell shocked that first year of college. I shared an apartment with 3 other girls, and wow! Talk about diversity. My bedroom would become my sanctuary when I wasn’t in classes. Allison, my roommate was this super confident black American girl, who was enjoying her independence. I don’t think I ever learned much about her except that she was always spending the night with her boyfriend, was that even legal? The other two girls were my housemates. Hilary, was from Northern California. A rich white girl, always chillin’ on a high with her boyfriend. It got to the point that literally they would do days just hitting that bong, barely going to classes, yet somehow passing exams with A’s! I was awkward with them, now it wasn’t only the white and brown difference, it was their relaxation methods that weirded me out. Don’t get me wrong, Hilary was nice, but what she offered, I did not want.

Julia, my other housemate was also from Northern California. She was a hippie type, very natural, didn’t like perfumes, or make up or deodorant. She was the most approachable even spoke Spanish, but because I wasn’t in that comfort cultural zone I avoided her too. Little did I know that one day I would be related to someone a lot like her; my brother in-law Jeremy.

Life was hard and school was just too much to cope with to even realize that I had no social life. In lil’ ole Calipat high, I was accepted. Nobody was unaccepting me, if anything, all the other Freshmen were just like me, adjusting. In high school I was cool, I was fun and crazy, but college life and the big city was way out of my league. I did manage to acquire a friend,  a legit Mexican-American. Her Spanish was better than mine and she was studious. Two awkward Mexicans in a multicultural sea of students. Margarita was smart and focused on why she was there, while I was wondering why I was there in the first place! Fatigue, depression and loneliness washed over me.

I survived that first year, but just barely. My grades were mediocre, It wasn’t until the end of the school year that I realized that all the free time I had between classes and labs was meant for studying, not The Guiding Light soap opera!. 

Staying in San Diego

I was glad when it was over, I was done with the whole experience, midterms and finals for sure! My brain was was exhausted. I was ready for my break. I needed to catch up with my sis Patty, and my valley friends before facing the reality of adulting. But, once again, an application determined my future. I had applied and was hired for a job at the Science and Engineering Library on campus, starting immediately. In this setting I would really face the diversity of cultures and generations. (I didn’t even know that students could be old!) I had to face it, accept and maybe embrace it. We would see, but first I would catch a quick weekend at home

More Change

One short summer weekend, that turned my life upside down and inside out again! My mother fretted and she looked at my sister Patty. Otra vez! She was getting blamed. My other siblings wondered what the heck I was doing. I was a different girl, hold on, same lil Mexican-American chick, but I re-entered San Diego a whole new person from the inside. Some would say “I got religion” Maybe I did. This is what I know, I discovered true friendship. 

Jesus Culture

Wow! A friend who transcended culture, age, gender, mindsets, habits. No pretending, no holding back, he loved me, just the way I was! Immediately I trusted him. No fear of backstabbing, or rejection. No worries that he’d be embarrassed of me, or that I was bothering him. He actually sought to be my friend, he wasn’t too busy. He was that friend that totally influenced every part of me and my life. Now with this new influencer in my life I was challenged to look outside my comfortable culture and accept and offer friendship outside of it. While I was open to it, it was a bit awkward. I was glad that in fact He encouraged me to mix and mingle my Mexican-American culture with his Jesus culture, and beyond! He spoke Spanglish.

I can’t wait to tell about the incredible diversity I’ve enjoyed in my relationships, starting with my marriage. Friends that I would have never chosen or been afraid to approach were arranged into my life beautifully.