You don’t speak Mexican?

If Mexican were a language, it would still be hard for me to speak it. The biggest reason would be that I was in Colombia and not in Mexico. Even though I was born in Colombia, I don’t speak Colombian. I know it seems strange doesn’t it. Now if people put a little thought into it, they would realize that words like Hispanic, Spanish, and Latin have more to do with language than actual ethnicity. Not too long ago I wrote about the subject and how I am proud of in a way being Mexican by being Latin.

There is something to be said about the American school system. I remember in Colombia learning about every country in the world, knowing what language they spoke, their currency, population, flag and type of government. I knew that in the United States they spoke English. While it could be debatable if Americans really speak the Queen’s English or an American version of it, the language is still called English and I have never asked anyone if they speak American. That would make a lot more sense since even the aliens on the movies speak English. The bad guys for some reason have an English or French accent but that is a whole other post.

Yesterday enjoying lunch with some coworkers the subject of ethnical identity came up; it was stated that to most non-Spanish people, when they see someone that looks Spanish they are automatically deemed Mexicans. Now this has been true for both Michigan and Illinois. I am not sure if in New York people think all Spanish people are Puerto Rican or in Miami everyone thinks they are Cuban, but in the Midwest being Spanish automatically makes you Mexican.

I had experienced this same conversation before with various groups of people. Most people then get very defensive when I tell them that I am not Mexican, and ask why do I care if I am called Mexican. I have nothing against Mexicans, my sister is married to a Mexican, I have Mexican friends, love Mexican food and furthermore I think that the Aztecs and Mayans were civilizations to be admired. However I am also very proud of my own heritage. I am very proud of being Colombian even though my country does not have the most positive image in the world’s eyes.

The other question that is often asked is: “What is your real name?” A lot of people, including some Spanish people think that I changed my name once I moved to the United States. I’ve had people try to call me Juan, which is the translation of John to Spanish… but not my name, I was born John, it is the name my parents picked. So talk to them about naming me with an English name. Do me a favor and don’t accuse me of “Americanizing” my name.

While language unites Spanish people, or Hispanics, or Latinos, or whatever it is politically correct to call us these days, we are not a united front. There are very deep division lines betweens people from different Spanish countries and a lot of people outside of our ethnicity do not realize that. People from different countries seem to just dislike you for being from a country different that theirs; I have experienced this dislike first hand. I do seem to get along with pretty much anyone, but because of food similarity, or music taste I have always seemed to get along with Cubans and Puerto Ricans. But it does not stop there, I am also a big fan of Spanish rock and thanks to it I was got to meet couple of guys from Guatemala during high school. I believe the only person that I know from El Salvador is JorgeQ. I hope that I never experience that country segregation and that someone will not read me just because I am from Colombia. Overall though there is a division, I am not sure if it is Central Americans vs. South Americans or what, but what I do know is that no one likes Argentineans, “they are kind of stuck up.” (Joking)

I am not trying to offend anyone here; I like everyone for who they are as people and like to find out where people are from just because I love to learn about cultures, not because I am not going to like you because of where you are from; Even if you are from Argentina. I am trying to point out how ridiculous it is to have all the prejudice that we see between Spanish people, or for that matter between humans of all races. It is cool to be proud of where you are from, of who you are, but make it a springboard for unity, find common ground. Do not make the color of your skin an excuse to find differences and things to divide you from your fellow humans. I am extremely proud of my flag and I wear it on my arm (literarily), but I want it to be taken as a sign of pride and not arrogance. While Colombians are very proud people, at times a little too loud and at times just annoying, I can tell you that as a group of people we have “ganas” (drive) and hearths as big as our houses.
On the spirit of humor one of my coworkers found a little Homies figurine depicting a Mexican Mariachi. I thought it was hilarious, now it is going to be eaten by my dragon.

Latin Pride

You all know how proud I am to have been born in Colombia. One label that I was not aware of until I moved to the US is that I was also Latin. While I was aware of the word and that Spanish was one of the Romance Languages, languages that were derived from Latin, what I did not know was that I was going to have to wear this label as long as I lived in the U.S.

While for a lot of people it really can be a painful thing to be segregated by the color of their skin, I try to concentrate in the positive side of being Latin and look at all the things positive things that my culture brings into my life. I grew up in Colombia not knowing that Latin countries influence each other quite a bit. Musically for example, “Cumbia” a rhythm very popular in Mexico today actually originates from Colombia. “Rancheras,” a very popular music for some Colombians comes from Mexico. Mariachis are in some sense the international ambassadors from that country to the world. You can actually find Mariachis playing “Rancheras” in Colombia. If I remember correctly there is a bar called Mexicali where you can go listen to “Rancheras” live. A lot of times when someone thinks of Mexico the first image that comes to his or her mind is a big Mariachi sombrero.

I am not one for stereotyping, and in a way saying that Mariachis are the ambassadors of Mexico could be misconstrued as a negative representation of all that Mexico is. I know that there is a lot more to Mexico than just Mariachis. When I make the statement about Mariachis, I mean to make it in the most positive way, and I am proud that as a Latino I can consider them part of my culture. I am also very happy to have had the opportunity to sample a lot of homemade Mexican food. A misconception of a lot of people is that all Latin food is hot spicy. Actually Mexican food is one of the only types of foods where hot spices are a main staple in the cuisine. For example in Colombian food, there is only one sauce that accompanies Colombian “Empanadas” called “Aji” that is actually supposed to be hot spicy. The rest of Colombian dishes are not hot at all.

One of my favorite Mexican foods is “Mole”. A chocolate based sauce with a kick. There are many variations of “Mole” sauce and I like “Mole Rojo” over chicken the best. I have had “Mole” in the brain for like the last week. This Sunday I went to our favorite Mexican restaurant, “Los Cuatro Amigos” and I was very excited when I was the “Mole” on the so I ordered it, keeping in mind that it might not be as good as some of the homemade “Mole” I’ve had in the past but I was wrong. The “Mole” was excellent. One of the other good qualities at this restaurant is that they use very good cuts of the meat, so the whole dish was excellent pieces of chicken. If you ever venture into a Mexican restaurant that has “Mole” I dare you to try it.

I finished watching the Kill Bill saga by watching part 2. The special features which had a concert by Chingon a band created by Director Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Desperado and Once Upon in Mexico.) Rodriguez actually scored Kill Bill 2 for free. Chingon (Which means badass) played “Malaguena Salerosa” a Mariachi styled song that wounded excellent and made my heart beat a little faster. It has to be the Latin blood that runs through my veins.

Saturday I got another huge surprise that I was not expecting at all. I attended my Company’s holiday party. I know a little late, but believe me it is a lot better than trying to fit it in during the holidays. The festivities were hosted at the Saginaw Club. An excellent location but it had one flaw, tons of stairs. Anyway, they had four different styles of food being served buffet style, but there were actual cooks keeping all of the dishes fresh. They had Japanese, Caribbean, Italian and Mexican. Along with the great food and free drinks, for entertainment they also had a Mariachi band. While it was not a huge one, I counted 6 members. I requested El Rey, which to me is probably the classic “Ranchera”. They performed it flawlessly and I felt very connected to my Latin roots during that moment. What can I say; I had a very Mexican weekend and enjoyed every second of it.

Car Skating?

That is what it felt like this morning trying to drive in the freezing rain. I have only experienced this kind of driving a couple of times and it is quite scary. Midway to work and almost 1 hour of driving a route that takes most days 20 minutes we headed back home and I decided to telecomute. Be safe out there.

Best Friends

‘Best Friend’ has been a title that I have given to a lot of people but it has seldom been reciprocated. I was very surprised when my best friend from high school back in Colombia actually called me his best friend. We have kept in contact and our paths actually crossed again back in 1998 after not seeing each other for five years. He is actually a successful singer, musician, record producer and electrical engineer back in Colombia. He actually taught me how to play the couple of chords I know how to play on the guitar. He recently started blogging and posted a 50 things about him, and I am proud that he actually mentioned me as his “mejor amigo” during high school.

I remember a lot of people that have affected my life as best friends. In one way or another they have shaped who I am with their friendship and even though some of them have not ended in the most positive of terms, I have learned from all of the relationships. My first memory of having a best friend comes from grade school. I spent 5 years with the same group of kids and my best friend was Edgar. He lived around the corner from me and was a very kind, mild mannered kid. I will always remember how gentle and friendly he was to everyone and have always wanted to reconnect with him. I do know that he got married and has a couple of kids, but not sure what he became professionally.

Around the neighborhood I had two friends that I will never forget. One was Jose Luis aka (Pocho). He was an excellent athlete and soccer player. He made me a better soccer player and taught me a lot about being street smart. I remember a lot of playing soccer and playing dominos with him and a group of friends. Pocho went on to become a doctor and I am really not sure where he lives now but I do know that he actually moved to Ecuador to go to school. The second one was Jacqueline who was the daughter of one of my Mom’s best friends and the niece of my uncle’s wife. We grew up together because our families were close but we developed our own friendship to the point that she knew more about me than any other friend. She was someone I felt I could talk to about anything and there would be no judgment. One sad thing about remembering her is that she is not with us anymore. She passed away 2 years after I moved to the United States. I visited her grave when I went to Colombia and I will always remember her.

During high school I had a group of friends that through the years became a protection clique. I was always the small one and they all took care of me in one way or another. The school that we went to was very divided into different social groups and we had tons of fun with each other. We came up with our own made up words, our own practices and just overall craziness. Julian aka (NitoXXX) was part of that group along with Javier, Diego, and Andres. Julian inspired this post, Javier is now a doctor and I believe he is now in the UK, Diego is a Psychologist working with the people displaced by the war all over Colombia and I believe Andres is a teacher still in our city.

After moving to the US I did a couple of years in High School and graduated after 4 senior years. It is a complicated thing that I will someday explain in a post. While at High School in the US I made one best friend, Luis aka (Chino) he helped me survive a very tough High School without any major incidents. I also became a part of his family during those years by being over there all the time eating tasty Puerto Rican meals that his Mom made. After Chino moved away from his parents I have not heard much from him. I have seen him over the years but at times it seems like I have seen his parents more than I have seen him after High School.

College was a blast and I met some of the people that I wanted to keep in contact with for the rest of my life. It just so happens that after college you lose touch with most of your friends. Something that I should have learned after grammar school and High School, but I partially blamed it on just moving away from Colombia. I met some great people there, some I don’t talk to anymore by choice (mine or theirs depending on various situations) and some are the people that I will have stand up for me at my wedding. Travis and Eric are two of the brightest people I have the pleasure to interact with in my life. Travis is a web developer working for a firm down in southern IL, and Eric works for a big telecom company writing software (even thought he is a hardware guru) and installing equipment to deliver digital content. I still keep on contact with them in a regular basis, but we have not seen each other as much as we would like to because of geographical distances.

Is individualism to blame for bad manners?

I wrote about how our society is losing its good manners. I received some excellent comments, and the one from Sal made me think about family interactions.

Sal Said

I just had a big argument with my wife about this. For some reason, her 18 year old daughter doesnt say hello to people as she walks in the house…

…My wife has said in the past that to her daughter you dont need to do this because you are part of the family, and my response is that family is even more important than strangers.

I am making a statement that some might strongly disagree with, but I think that part of the problem with our society is individualism. Our society is addicted to winning, being the best and having the most is what capitalism is all about. Are we ready to pay the price?

Most teenagers in every culture go through a rebellion phase. They try to branch off and develop their personality and become an individual. In Colombia, most kids then get through this phase and rejoin the family unit. They come back respecting the values and core morals of the family. Respect for your elders is not just encouraged but expected, and age is looked upon as wisdom and not a handicap.

I have observed in America how teenagers after going through their rebellion phase do not come back to their families. Most of the time they develop their individualism and become a whole new person at times denouncing anything that would connect them to the past generation. I believe this is to blame in part to the loss of manners now a days. Our youth is striving so hard to separate themselves from the previous “un-cool” generation that even basic principles and common sense are ignored and forgotten.

Being in a household with a mixed culture, Cielo being born and raised in a smaller town and me coming in with the Colombian background as well as the big city life I experience have come up with our own little culture. The important thing is to not just drop one of the cultures but as a family unit come up with your own. I believe the Colombian culture has a lot to offer, and we adopt as much of it as it fits our lives. The small town living that Cielo grew up around also brings a lot of positives that have really made me slow down from the 24-hour big city life. We both still love Chicago and visit quite often, but can do without a lot of the congestion and stress that comes from a cosmopolitan city.

I think not just in our household but in all households it is important to compromise your beliefs and come up with what is best for the family. I don’t think is right to just ignore how one person lives or has lived before just for the sake of continuity. In Sal’s case I think that teaching his (step)Daughter respect and greeting people when she comes home is important. I believe that while a compromise can be reached in other terms, that keeping that sense of family involves greeting and personal contact. I think he should care, and believe in incorporating what I believe is a very positive thing into his overall family culture.

What do you guys think?