Things my mother taught me

A year ago, I moved back to where I grew up. This time, I was 14 years older, had a good paying job and, for lack of a better word, was an adult. My fiance (now husband) and I bought a house near the park where you could find us every Sunday, the grammar school I attended and my parent’s house. We are now also not too far away from the Midway Orange Line that I take to work every day.

Because I live so close to my parents, they’ve decided to spoil me rotten and pick me up every morning to head to the train to go to work. Don’t worry, it wasn’t just for me, but also for my mom who still works downtown at a law firm. She taught me how to ride the train to meet her for lunch at 10 years old, during the summer when I was out of school. She taught me the importance of directions and explained how to find my way around when I got lost. Luckily, in Chicago, we’re on a grid and well, it’s not too hard to understand and learn.

Since I’ve been riding the train with her for about a year now, and like I said, am substantially older than I was when we rode the train together when I was in high school, I’ve come to realize just how much of a gift it is and have learned to cherish the time we have together in the mornings, telling stories, laughing or complaining about how tired we are.

My mom and I are a lot alike. If you know me and you’ve met my mother, you’d probably say, “Duh.” But I’m also a lot like my dad. I’d like to think that I’ve won the best qualities of both of them. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about not necessarily how alike we are, but WHY we are alike. I pride myself as being a good listener– I can listen to understand, even though I act like I’m not listening at all– and it’s something that I learned because of my mother.

So I decided to compile a list. Not necessarily about lessons that my mom taught me because I don’t even think she thought she was teaching me when I learned these things, but about what I learned because of her.

Don’t force anything. I’m extremely impatient. Mentally, I want things to happen quickly especially if I can control it. I wanted things to happen instantly. I wanted my parents to always say yes to me when I asked to do something. I wanted to be like my friends so I would have them and they wouldn’t think I wasn’t cool. I wanted people to like me because– they didn’t. Be patient, my mom told me. Don’t force it. I didn’t understand that until I became an adult. If things are supposed to happen, they will. With time things will emerge and they will grow into something more to my liking. I also realized that I couldn’t control what was out of my control.

Later on, I learned that the only person I could control was myself and that any consequences that may have occurred was because I allowed it to happen or I made it happen. From then on, I took my dad’s chill approach to things and made a lot more intentional decisions in my life.

Learn to understand but don’t waiver on your morals and values. This was not easy to learn. Like I previously said, I learned the importance of understanding as a kid because my mother would always tell me how good we had it. We would never know what my mom and her 7 siblings had been through. She was right and when I finally put two and two together, I told her, well, we’ll never know because we didn’t live through it and because you don’t tell us about it. So she started telling us why we had it so good. Later I understood why my mother and her siblings were raised the way they were because I listened to my grandmother, and even then, I came to understand my mother better because I had a feel for what she experienced.

This later emerged into something I liked to call my “spidey senses” because I learned to understand individuals based on their experiences. From this, I could understand why people acted the way they did and in a way I was putting myself in their shoes. I realized later that a lot of people didn’t think this way.

I also challenged my mother. I know that. I wasn’t the easiest kid to deal with because I didn’t necessarily ask for permission and I am incredibly independent and stubborn. When I started to get exposed to things outside of my realm in high school, we would get into the roughest of arguments all over one topic: Religion. I was learning about atheist philosophers and questioning life’s meaning. Who was right? Who was wrong? Why not ask questions?

My mother fought me back and said, “I have faith because I was taught to believe, not question.” She wanted me to do the same, but instead I chose to question everything. I didn’t understand accepting things as they were and sometimes I still don’t as someone who’s open to different theories and philosophies. My mother isn’t like me in that regard, but those are her morals and values and I have to respect that. I get upset sometimes that she may not understand (and may not want to), which is how she taught me the importance of doing just that.

Hard work and merit live above and beyond favors. Oh the irony in being a Chicagoan! Mom always taught me to do things myself. If I wanted a job, I had to search for one. If I wanted an internship, I could ask around and look for resources. She hardly ever helped or did any of that for me. She never asked her bosses for favor or did she have me work in her office. She let me do my own thing because I was going to meet people and build my own network. Now, maybe she just thought that I wanted to do something different from work in a law firm, but a little introduction would’ve gone a long way! Nevertheless, I realized that I could go out and do it on my own and I learned the power of my will and motivation. Not to mention, the thrill of completing or executing a project because of the work I put into it.

The moment I realized that it was true was when she told me that a former boss of hers was writing letters to his friends on his son’s behalf. “Can you believe that?” Yes, mom because a lot of people I knew had their parents do that for them. But not my mother. She was going to make me work for what I wanted– and so far, I have and the reward is very, very sweet.

Follow Through. Oh, man. This is one of my favorites. It came in handy when I played basketball, too. When I was in grammar school, I was in numerous activities. In my younger years, that included choir and band. After about 3 months in choir, my friends wanted to quit and did because their parents let them. I couldn’t. My mother told me, “You wanted to do this, you committed to it and you will finish the year.” What a drag!

When my friends all got tired of band and they quit, I told my mom I wanted to quit, too. “Why?” I had no good reason! And that’s when I heard, “If your friends jump off a bridge, are you going to, too?” Fine. So I stayed.

Needless to say, I got used to finishing what I started and I learned to keep my word. I really learned how to see things through because I knew that it would bring me a feeling of accomplishment in the end. Although I did quit the choir, I played flute all through high school and am really glad that I did.

Be humble. Keep striving. My mom always showed us that you shouldn’t brag about things. She taught us that we shouldn’t let good things inflate our ego. This has probably stayed with me and built a foundation in me, creating the person that I am today. I’ve realized that even if I talk about myself, it could be used to inspire or work with others — not making it about me. I’ve always strived for more.

Four years ago now, when EXPO Collective put on its first art fest, I couldn’t appreciate how wonderful it really was. I can now. But back then, I just thought– there’s more to be done. This isn’t the last of it. I could never really gloat or brag about things because for me, those things were not the end– they weren’t worth the brag. Instead, my mission was to continue the art fest year after year and try to benefit as many people as I could along the way because everything I was doing was a means to an end.

Gender what? Gender roles existed only in tradition in my house. As a Latina, (and if you’re Latinx, you’d understand) I was taught that girls were nice and pretty growing up. We didn’t use bad words, we were supposed to serve our fathers and we were supposed to stay home. Yeah, not me. I rebelled hardcore.

“Would you treat me different if I was a boy?” I asked my parents once. Yes, they said. It wasn’t fair and I told them so. They were going to treat me like a nice little girl because I didn’t have a penis, yet I could play basketball, softball and be a tomboy climbing trees and getting dirty. I understand now that they wanted to protect me and that’s the way they knew how, but I saw it as a reason to empower myself. I knew I was as strong (mentally) as any boy, and that I could do what I wanted.

My mother did tell me that I could do what I wanted and she definitely has a privileged mind-set, not letting anything stop her from doing what she needs to do, but after thinking about it you could understand the conflict that she felt.

Growing up in a traditional Mexican household versus growing up in the states where we were told we could live the American dream was one big conflict. My mom and aunts stood up for me when my grandmother insisted that I serve my father and boyfriends. They told her that I should be able to go out because that’s what life was about. They told her not to worry about me being a callejera or that I was out with friends, though they probably worried themselves. I remember when my grandmother asked how I was supposed to get married if I didn’t just settle down and stop traveling so much or wanting to do such big things. My mom told her that I’d find someone who wouldn’t mind and would go with me (and I found him). They all didn’t want me growing up that way, they said.

As I got older, I noticed that my dad was home with us usually after school and he would cook for us. My mom even complained once that his rice was better than hers. There was no role to be played in the house based on gender with my parents. They were a team and still are. I learned then that my dad would probably always be physically stronger than my mother, but we wouldn’t be where we are today without her motivation of our education, passion for learning and stubbornness.

Of course, I owe that to my father as well, for not being a machista and thinking progressively about women’s roles (especially since he was surrounded by us all the time), among other things like having faith in his daughters. As much as I think my father would have liked a boy, I tried my best to play the role. ;p

But what makes me believe of my father as a feminist and progressive is that he’s even said it: we wouldn’t be where we are without my mom.

And that’s pretty dope.

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Who are these “Latinos” you speak of?

What is it about Latinos that lead people to believe that they have to be spoken to in another language. Ok, ok, I guess all of the speaking Spanish is a dead giveaway, but then again, why are people having such a hard time reaching this demographic of people? These black and brown people who speak different languages and just act so…so… differently?

Ultimately, what people don’t understand is that Latinos are just like the rest of the country. We listen to music, we speak English, we watch things in English and we go to school here. Let’s specify Latino as someone of Latin American descent who lives in the United States; immigrant generation through second, third, to ninth generation. Yes, there is such a thing. Usually, they’re known as Texans.

We just look at things differently. Many researchers in terms of language say that we’re smarter for being bilingual. When you talk about cognitive development, having an extensive vocabulary and having a sort of natural focus on things, it’s kind of impressive. Since we’re bicultural, we grow in a more worldly fashion, most of us. We are less likely to put others down because of their differences and more likely to learn about a variety of cultures in the world. If anything, the more diverse we are, the more we absorb.

But hell if you hear someone with an accent. They mark you as a foreigner and hold it against you that English wasn’t your first language, not that you’re learning a new one. Have you ever thought about it this way: I know they have an accent because they speak another language and therefore should be admired for speaking a language other than their own? Nah.

And that’s not just for Latinos, that’s for all immigrants.

Little me.

Since I was a kid, I spoke Spanish. Right out of the womb, I was talking to my dad and grandmother in their native language while growing up with my cousins, mom, aunts and practically everyone else speaking English. They tried to convince me I was American… the little American girl I was supposed to be until someone pointed out my tan coloring and a girl at school told me I was too dark to like a lighter-skinned boy. My first memory of Kindergarten was teaching the girl sitting next to me how to say the days of the week in Spanish. Since day one, I was spewing my Latin goodness into the world.

I knew I was different, but not in any way that was going to make me ashamed. If anything, it was going to show my parents how strong I could be as a girl of Mexican descent in this country and how I was going to make it work for me. I noticed all the differences growing up and how I was a part of organizations, clubs and more because I was brown and spoke Spanish.

I was going to be the educated Latina that no one was going to put down or insult indirectly (even though it happened anyway), because I was going to tell you the truth. I was going to tell you how it really was with the history, the insight and the stories.

After playing my role as an “angry minority” in college, a friend of mine told me, “Don’t hate, Christina. Educate.” And damn, Ric, I took that to heart. So here I am, explaining. Or at least trying to.

With that said, I feel like I have to teach almost everyone about who we are as a community, as a

Mural art in Pilsen | Chicago

culture and as a group that is going to be one of the most powerful in the country very, very soon. This is why I’m very much in favor of quality education for children of color, why I expect so much out of my sister and little cousins and why I expect goodness, quality and high standards out of those around me. If you hold them to a high standard, they will perform at a high standard.

I also believe in knowing your place, or that you even have one. This is why I tell people about Latinos’ history in the United States, because, darn it, we have been here for a very long time and we’ve contributed so much to the building of the country. Those kids I went to college with, who chose to learn about it, naturally made their way into social services to help, pick up and lend a hand to people we know need help, using education as the tool to help do that, not to learn about the situations. That came from experience.

Many of my friends and I, we’ve taught ourselves about our place in the country, what we’ve given, where we’ve lived and what caused societal issues that affected the underrepresented communities of the nation. We learn about it and tell our stories through music, writing, theater and standing up for ourselves against any kind of oppression whether stereotypes, discrimination or prejudice. We do it through marches and collaborations; love and support; toughness and expectations. And ultimately, my team and I plan on standing up for ourselves by changing the way people think about us.

This new community, this new generation of Latinos who have chosen to make a new path though education and equality, this is the generation of Latinos who will take over this country. These are the people you have to talk to: the professionals who sit in the next cubicle, your boss, the guy on the bus, your lawyer, your doctor, your waitress and the musician on the stage. They may not “look” Latino, but trust me, they are.  We’re all around you, so don’t be afraid. We probably like the same things you do, talk the same way you do and have pride in the same sports teams you do—and no, it’s probably not a soccer team.

You can talk to us in Spanish, we will understand you. But you know what? Treat us as humans, as equals. In the end, that’s what wins, isn’t it?

What you have… What you don’t…

You don’t have to worry about asking me where I’ve been. If you haven’t seen me here, you’ve seen me at chicagonow.com/livingwithdiabetes. I blog for ChicagoNOW about diabetes. Cool, huh?

Anyway, the other day, I was listening to a rant. It was a long, intricate, detailed rant about the Chicago Public Schools system. This person went into detail about how their kid wasn’t being helped to the extent that was possible for the school. They talked about going to the principal, therapists, special ed teachers, writing letters, the whole shebang. This was an educated individual, to say the least, and very knowledgeable on CPS.

After it was all over, she admitted to not knowing a few things that people had to explain to her– ways to work with the system and go about getting to the right people. And out loud I said, “Can you imagine the people who don’t know those things?” And it took me into thought about all those people who are ignorant to systems, language, literacy, or just plain knowing who to talk and they let their children slip through the cracks of our ridiculous education system.

Chicago has the shortest school day and shortest school year in the nation, which is horrendous. I think it’s important for children to be in school longer, something that Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel is putting into effect. The more you learn, the more protection you will have and the wiser you’ll be. Streets will be safer and children will be more likely to go to college. Children’s brains and minds will develop and families will learn how to work with their struggling students. It’s not always about the kid.

Right now, people don’t know. They also don’t know that they don’t know. Get it? It’s like walking in a large room and you’re supposed to do something but don’t know what. There are a million people but you don’t know which person to talk to. They told you to go into the room, but you’re not sure what you’re supposed to do once you get there. That’s how some things are in life and if you don’t know you’re supposed to do it, how are you supposed to know what to do?

This is the answer to a lot of questions out there: Why are Latinos dropping out of school? Why do they have children so young? Why don’t they want to go to college? Moreso, they can all be answered by the lack of education and knowledge.

Kids drop out of school because they don’t find it useful. Education has to evolve, which it’s clearly not doing. Latinos have kids in high school, because that is what came before them, that is what they see. If no one told them not to, why shouldn’t they?

I was talking to a mom here at my job. She’s 22 with two kids and she told me that coming to our agency was the first time she realized she wasn’t supposed to have a kid at 17. Everyone else around her had already had their children and her best friend at 21 has five kids. If that’s what you’re surrounded by, how are you supposed to know any different? She ended up dropping out of high school to take care of her daughter, but over the years got her GED and is now in college. It all worked out for her, but what about the other people out there? What about her friends who weren’t taught how to do things properly? Not even properly, but they weren’t shown how to make the best out of their young lives.

 Latinos don’t think college is valuable when they can get a job. Why pay someone for an education you won’t use, right? When you can go out into the world and make money, why waste your time in trying to learn more crap?

These are the issues we’re facing in schools and because many of these children come from immigrant communities, families don’t know who to ask or what to ask when searching for help. If their kids are in school, that’s good enough, right? The educational system is failing the students in both the short and long-term. Your educational system should bring out the importance of education, the chance to do things, the opportunities that can be realized right in front of your eyes.

There was a test done with children and candy. Each child received two pieces of small candy and were told that they could either eat those now and not get any more or they could wait two minutes and receive three more pieces of candy. Some kids found the correlation that if they wait they get more, where as others found that they would be satisfied instantaneously if they ate the candy they had.

I always say I’ll wait for the three other pieces. Children, teens and even young adults should be taught that taking the longer route may not be satisfying at the moment, but that it can reap more benefits with a little bit of time. But the interest needs to be there to keep these students engaged in what CAN be, not what is. And that’s where the school system and parents are failing.

Class is dismissed… Psyche!

I don’t normally go home on the weekdays, but since I had free time, I went to my parents’ house for dinner and some chatting.

My little cousin is a senior at St. Ignatius (my Alma mater) and is always doing homework after dinner at the dining room table. Last night, she had her head phones on and giggled a few times.

“What are you watching?” I asked her, because I’m always down for a laugh.

“My teacher made a YouTube video,” she said. At this point I’m thinking, ‘What? Is he drunk and dancing around or something? Did friends get him at a bar all over some girl?’

“What kind of vide0?” I asked.

“It’s the first time he ever made one and it’s for class. We ran out of time so he made this to teach us what we couldn’t go over in class,” she explained. And sure enough, there was his voice teaching his students about solving trigonometric equations.  Take a look.

There was a part two, but I’ll save you from the torture of having to remember what exactly Sin, CoSin, Tangent and all those other tidly-bits mean. I got a headache just listening to the first minute of the seven minute video. Not bad for a first time YouTube video maker, eh?

So this got me thinking. We have classes online that you can attend in your pajamas, right? And now, if teachers run out of time in class, they can easily just send their students a link to a video that furthers the classroom experience, explains how to solve equations thanks to Powerpoint through the wonders of technology and allows for students to take it as they please.

As I’m writing this, I’m still trying to figure out if I have a problem with it. Would you consider this situation like work? For example, people have complained previously that having their BlackBerry phones connected to their work email is, in fact, working when you’re not on the clock. Or that you cross boundaries with smartphones now, not ever fully being around your family when you need to be because you can always do some kind of work through your phone. The New York Times recently published an article about these boundaries and what smartphones have done to the American people. It basically merges both world to a point of no return.

But the question I’m posing is, does schooling fall into the same category? Anyone can be overworked and side affects are certainly seen in many different people who are always on the go. An overdose of stress can even lead to medical problems and health problems. Once my cousin hits college, there will hardly ever be a stopping point unless she plans it. Face it, when you’re sitting at home, doing nothing, you always have the thought in the back of your mind that you SHOULD be doing something. There is a go, go, go feel in the world. But little does everyone know that in order to keep sane, you need downtime. There’s no doubt about that.

Nonetheless, you have the upside to all of this as well. You’re learning what you need to know to pass the class and you can learn at your own leisure, right? I mean, she can pause the video, watch it all the way through and rewind if she needs to. The concept that learning can be done in different methods is important because as growing, conceptualizing human beings, we should always be learning and evolving. So, in a way, I don’t totally disagree with this form of classroom continuation.

Please share a story or example of classroom continuation if you have one! I want to know what else is going on out there! 🙂

How do you know you’re a pro?

I have always, without fail, known that I am a jack of all trades. It’s kind of, oh, I don’t know, apparent? I mean, not to toot my own horn here or anything, but I can do a lot, I take interest in many, many things and I get myself into more than I can handle, sometimes. I’m a self-made pancake (meaning I stretch myself pretty thin).

For instance, as of this moment, I’m working full-time at a nonprofit, I am working on the communications side of a campaign, I’m also working on the marketing/PR/social media side of a small start-up and I just agreed to try to do some publicity research for someone who I’ll never see. That is because I am in Chicago and he is in LA.

How did I start talking about this? Oh, right. I was glancing over my own Twitter feed for once (since I run about 6 for other people) and I noticed that I was listed 31 times. “Wow,” I thought. “People have found their own ways of labeling me. Possibly more than I have.” Among the lists I found Latina Blogger, Sports fan, Interesting people, Chicago peeps, The Arts, Latinos in Social Media, Cubs/Bears fans, Noticias/Politicos, Music and some of those are repeated. Keep in mind that I typically only tweet about things that I find interesting or that I’m passionate about. You’ll find the occasional “This is nonsense” tweet like when I wrote out “Pinky up” when referring to how I was drinking my drink which caused a dear twitter friend of mine to say, “What the hell are you talking about?” People, oddly enough, actually pay attention to things that I say.

Mind you, my boyfriend, in his own way, checks to see who actually reads my tweets by saying something absolutely ridiculous like, “I like big butts and I cannot lie” which caused a small stir about my followers and made me smile. And honestly, I can see why people are listing me in these labels. I do understand it because well, I am every one of those labels. I live in Chicago, am an avid Cubs and Bears fan who writes blogs (obviously), likes to paint and draw, listens to too much music, pays attention to politics and am a writer. See? They were dead on. Incredible how some people learn to know you from just 140 characters or less. I suppose this follows along with what Louis Pagan wrote about earlier; talking about the people you meet through social media.

But more than that, I want to talk about the fact that people now-a-days are doing so much. So, how do you know when you have expertise in an area? For example, in the ever-changing world of social media and digital evolutions, can you really be a social media expert? I checked out this job posting once that said, “Social Media Expert: Must know more than just posting on Facebook status.” Well, what more is there? Do they mean understanding Facebook Fan Pages, using the advertisement opportunities of impressions and studying the fact that Fan Pages don’t rank as high as Facebook events on Google searches? For that matter, knowing that they don’t rank as high as Twitter? I mean, what does it take to know Facebook? Ten year olds are getting in on the action now. I mean, bullying has moved from the playground to MySpace and Facebook. In the ever-changing dynamic world of fads, the internet and marketing, how do you know you’re an expert?

OK, now what about music? I see some blogs on music that absolutely suck. I mean, they don’t know what they’re talking about and as they continue on you find out that “this is actually the first time I’m hearing this band” or something to that extent. When compared to people who have been listening to certain music or an array of music for decades, you realize that you should really listen to a band’s 10 albums before you start writing about how their present album cannot compare. In that area, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert either. I mean, just because I’ve been to a lot of shows, have a crazy infatuation for lyrics and melodies, love to dance salsa and cumbia and have written a bit about bands’ backgrounds doesn’t make me at all an expert. So what does that make me?

I was suggested to a promoter for my knowledge of bands and upon this promoter getting back to me, I told him what I knew about great, underrated, unknown musicians around the country. He thought that was great. Does that make me an expert in music? No. It makes me social. So my question here is, does making you social make you an expert? Does the fact that you know how to use Google and Bing (and understand their differences), are on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, like to go out and listen to music, watch a ton of sports or write a lot of nonsense make you an expert in any of the mentioned fields? No. So what does?

I’ve always had this problem because I’ve always wanted to master something. But I don’t know if it’s the lack of an attention span (which can’t be because I love to read and have the attention span of… well, whatever has a long attention span) to a certain thing or the fact that I get bored with a lot of things or the fact that I can’t stick to one thing but love learning how it affects everything else that is my problem. I like to find connections. I like to find influences, mutual friends and how the puzzle pieces of life fit together. I’m interested, which makes me interesting because I’m like a sponge (or so my boyfriend says). But I’m not a master of anything. In the world of media, which is where I found myself after four years of college and one year in a master’s program, you have to be confident, self-assured and somewhat cocky. Seriously. You have to act like you really know what you’re talking about, even though in reality, media itself is the giant monster that lives under your bed along with his cousin that lives in your closet. And not only can those monsters change color but they also change texture and level of emotion. That is the media. Not to mention that for the last, oh, I don’t know five years it’s been going through some grand revolution, evolution and genocide (I say that because of newspapers and paper publications being flushed down the drain).

I’m waiting for everything to calm down in the media world, although it doesn’t look like it’s going to. Not to mention that everyone and their momma, especially in the Latino realm, are going into marketing. Why? Because everyone finally caught wind of what is going on in this country and many others caught wind of the money makers. What do I mean? I mean the fact that Latinos are the largest growing segment in the United States, are a billion-dollar gold mine and have felt that the mainstream media has not spoken to them. Bam! This means that Latinos are using their skills to cater to companies that need a marketer in the community. “You speak Spanish and you’re brown! You’re hired!” Hey, it’s the way of the world and Latinos are self-starters and entrepreneurs. Rock on, us.

After all of that, I feel that the reasons why we’re jacks of all trades but not a master of one is because the rest of the world is turning us into that. We go where the money is and where we can benefit our community. At least, I do. So expert or not, I may just stick to the fact that I’m an expert on being Latina. And that is all.