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The Melting Pot

I just came back from a 5-day trip to New York and am trying to readjust to my suburban life in Tennessee. I keep thinking that if I could transport my house to Manhattan I would be a millionaire. But would I want to do that? Probably not. My house is too big and it takes a lot of upkeeping. I’m convinced that, if I lived there, I would be happier in a 1200 square-feet 2-bedroom apartment. The cleaning would be cut in less than half and we probably wouldn’t have space to accumulate so much junk. And, oh boy! We have so much junk. Organizing takes a lot more time than cleaning at my house and I would want to spend my time outside. 

I lived in New Jersey almost twenty years ago and used to commute to New York every day. I never got tired of it. For me, the best thing to do in New York is to walk around. Every corner brings a little surprise: the small restaurants, boutiques, souvenir stores, and the people that you see and hear on the streets. The big chain stores almost get lost amidst all of it. One of the things that I always find disappointing when I travel is that everything looks the same. The landscape changes, but the layout and the things that you find are always alike: one big main street that connects to an interstate and has all of your big chain stores and restaurants on either side. One could literally travel across the country and eat the same meal every day in the same chain restaurant. I always tell my kids when we travel that we will not eat at any restaurant that we already know. No Chick-Fil-A, no McDonald’s, no Cracker Barrell, no Texas Roadhouse. I really like for them to try new things and be open minded. But in New York is easy to do that. The whole-in-the-wall restaurants are everywhere and some of them have a line that goes around the corner. 

In one of these restaurants, the owner came to our table to check how everything tasted. My younger daughter, who’s only six years old, hugged the man’s leg. She hugs everyone, even the TSA agents at the airport, and people tend to be really uncomfortable. In general, people look at me as if I had let my dog out its leach and want my consent to pet it. Then, if the person is nice, she’ll get a little pet on the back. This time, however, instead of being uncomfortable, he looked at her, held her face with both hands, and kissed her forehead. My daughter had a grin that went from ear to ear. She was never met with spontaneity. After all, how many trainings people go through to learn about all the possible grounds for a lawsuit? I’m sure that hugging a kid is at the top of the list. I’m a teacher and I, too, have had my share of such trainings. According to my boss, touching a child’s shoulder might be perceived as sexual harassment. But, in that restaurant, none of that seemed to matter. A loving child finally tasted reciprocity and I have the feeling that she liked that taste better than the food. I wish I lived in a world where hugging a child is okay. Sometimes, kids just need a hug. 

Out of all the touristy things, my favorite is the Empire State Building. All the way from the eighty-first floor all you can see is one big city. You can’t see who is male or female, who is black or white, who has a Turkish or Spanish or German accent, who is gay or straight, who is muslin or scientologist, etc. Everyone is a small part of what gives that city its panache. All the way from the top of that building, New York truly is a melting pot. Down on the street, however, it looks  more like a beef stew in a slow-cooker. Some ingredients are softer than others, but only the potatoes are starting to melt. One can still recognize the different ingredients; but, at least, they all belong in the pot. 

Build Bridges. Not Walls.

This weekend, I finished reading a book called I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika L. Sánchez. As I read the last few pages, I munched on some left-over pan de muerto (bread of the dead) that I had purchased for my students to eat on Friday, as they learned about the Día de los Muertos. As I flipped through the pages, I thought of all the people, immigrants, that I met through the years. Not only Mexicans. Not only Spanish speakers. But all the hard-working people who left their countries and their family in search of a better life. Me included. 

Years ago, as a TA at Auburn University, I volunteered to teach ESL to adult learners. Classes were held at a local church once or twice a week, in the evenings. For a long time, I wondered why we didn’t hold classes at the university. After all, all volunteers were graduate students and we had real classrooms. One day, the coordinator explained to me that they had tried, but it didn’t work. Just like the protagonist’s family in Sánchez’s book, at least 90% of our ESL students were undocumented immigrants and they were afraid to go to a public institution on a regular basis. They were scared that someone would denounce them to la migra (the immigration) and, for this reason, they felt safer at a church. Also, many of them had only finished 4 or 5 years of school or didn’t go at all. Many didn’t know how to read and write Spanish, while others learned with a family member. For them, ‘going’ to a university was something unimaginable. They felt misplaced just by being there. 

After a few weeks of classes, many of them would be willing to open up to us about their lives. They related to me quickly because I, too, am an immigrant and they felt that I could be trusted. The fact is that, although they are in the US illegally, they are not hiding. Millions of undocumented immigrants are part of our daily lives. They don’t just do odd jobs for cash. They work in construction, factories, chain restaurants, hotels, farms, etc. 

Here’s how illegal immigrants go about work. They buy a fake social security number to present to their employer. The employer might or might not know that the document is fake, but that doesn’t become an issue until the employer have to issue a W-2. At that point, the IRS will send the employer a letter stating that the social security number is invalid. The employer, then, asks for a valid social security and the employee quits. A lot of times, instead of quitting, they only get a different fake social security card and continue to work at the same place. I’ve met people who worked illegally for the same company for a decade, each year under a different name and social security number. 

What you might be missing here is that, unless they work for cash doing odd jobs, cutting someone’s grass, or cleaning houses, undocumented immigrants collect taxes just like anybody. The only difference is that they can’t claim it. The amount of unclaimed taxes paid by undocumented workers is almost $12 billion (yes, with a ‘b’). https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2016/10/06/how-much-tax-do-americas-undocumented-immigrants-actually-pay-infographic/#4d3230d61de0

So what happens to the money? Exactly. That’s probably why the government doesn’t pass immigration reforms. Many recent articles have noted that taxes paid by undocumented workers is what’s keeping social security for falling apart. 

Besides that, the reality is that we need workers. Let’s face it. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not raising your children to pick tomatoes for a living, or to work in construction, or to wash dishes, or to clean hotel rooms. Some argue that if undocumented workers didn’t take these jobs for such a low pay, employers would have to raise salaries and more Americans would be willing to do this type of work. Now, suppose that a farming job would pay $25/hr for someone to pick tomatoes. I still wouldn’t want do that job and I still would make my kids go to college. Nonetheless, I believe that the higher salary would, in fact, attract more candidates, but not enough to cover the demand for tomatoes. Further, the salary increase would be passed to consumers, which would make tomatoes so expensive that people would stop buying them. After a while, farms would close and tomatoes would be imported for a cheaper price. Wait a minute! That already happens. But, how about service jobs? Construction or cleaning, for example. Increase in salaries would be passed straight to consumers. We can’t import houses or roads or clean hotel rooms. 

I always felt that part of my job was to advocate for the people whose language I teach. Although Mexicans are the main target of discrimination, the matter of the fact is that most people don’t know the difference between Mexican, Guatemalan, Argentinean, Spaniard, etc. The general idea is that they all speak Spanish; therefore, they must all be the same and deserve no respect or compassion. It’s hard to believe that an entire ethnical group, who contributed so much to the history of the world as we know it, became target to discrimination and hatred. Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende, Goya, queens and kings who ruled the world for centuries, and so many other Spanish speakers helped shape history. Still today, Spanish-speaking countries are culturally rich. Despite social problems that lead to poverty and lack of prospects, those provided with opportunities tend to excel. Just a quick internet browsing will give you a list of contemporary Nobel Prize Winners who happens to be Spanish speakers. 

But, forget about the notorious. We need, for the sake of humanity, to value hard-working people. Those folks who get up in the morning every day and are willing to take on any job in order to feed their families. Someone with a 4th grade education who leaves their country, their family and friends, and risks their life in order to give their children a chance to go to school and have a better life, should be applauded, not discriminated. 

That’s why the news about the White House trick-or-treating is still pounding in my head (see: https://www.gq.com/story/white-house-kids-build-the-wall). Telling little kids to write their names on construction paper to build that imaginary wall was a low blow. In a sick kind of way, I hope that their parents were aware of the activity ahead of time and went along with it. Unfortunately, I know plenty of people who would love for their kids to participate in that. I, on the other hand, would be furious if someone exposed my children to such bigotry. Then, there were the memes in response to the critique: “We don’t want a wall to keep you out. We want a wall so that you will learn to use the front door.” Really!? So why aren’t you fighting for someone to open the front door. Every undocumented immigrant dreams of coming through the front door. That’s what immigration reform is about: allowing people to live and work here legally. But if you do that, you will have to give them rights and the government won’t be able to keep their taxes. 

I only hope that I live long enough to see that wall turn into a bridge. Some people can’t quite see it yet, but one day we will look at how society treated immigrants with shame.

Friendship in Times of Joy

In an era when friendship can be tallied on social media and include people whom we never met, one sometimes can wonder what really means to have a friend in 2019. The line that divided friends from acquaintances have become blurred and the true meaning of the word faded along the way. 

Today, however, I don’t mean to question or discuss the role of social media in our idea of friendship. Instead, I’ll focus on our face-to-face friends. The ones that we talk to in person or over the phone and that we want to include in our personal lives. I can recall several moments in my life when my friends were the people who stood by me, who lifted me up and ‘glued’ me back together. I also remember the ones who disappointed me. The ones I thought I could count on, but never showed up. I have seen my kids and my students having the same issues from time to time. Even as an adult, friendship issues don’t fully go away. We just (hopefully) develop a better eye to spot friendship.  

Times of Need

“In times of need, you know who your true friends are.” I’ve heard so many versions of this saying that I lost count. But, is it true? I know that most of us definitely want our friends when we need them, but that doesn’t exclude the fact that some of our friends might be unfit to offer the support we need. Yes, an acknowledgement of our difficult times sounds like a reasonable expectation, but people are not always equipped to offer support. Nonetheless, I always felt that, in times of need, enough people show up to offer support. Even strangers sometimes come out of the woodwork to offer a helping hand.  

Measuring Friendship

But I believe that true friendships can be measured in times of joy. That’s right! I consider the people who stand by me through my accomplishments my true friends. If you stop and think, it makes sense. 

How are you as friend? Take a look at yourself and be honest. Imagine that your husband, your child, or your current boyfriend/girlfriend whom you absolutely adore got the promotion of a lifetime. They buy a new car, hire a personal trainer, get fit, and spend a month traveling through  Europe. You’d probably be happy and proud. Most of us would also feel the same about our siblings and close relatives (the ones we really love). But, as we extend this scenario to all the people that we know, you’ll see that we wouldn’t feel the same way about everyone. Even about some of our friends. 

The fact is that we see some people as less deserving, less smart, or less competent than us. And I’m sure that many people are. But when someone we truly love just gets lucky, we’re happy for them no matter what. Even if their luck puts them in a better place than ours, we celebrate. The flipside is that, if we can’t be happy for them, it means that we don’t truly love them or we are not truly their friend. Wow! That makes us seem a little selfish, right!? 

Somehow, it’s much easier to help people than to celebrate them. We learn from a very young age that we should help those in need, that we should be compassionate, understanding, and selfless. But, when we help someone, the implicit message is that we are somehow better or at least better off. So, helping makes us feel good. And, while I agree that taking your time to help others is a form of selflessness, I say that celebrating those who are better off than us is even more so. When we can honestly be happy about someone else’s victories, we do it just for them. Similarly, the friends who celebrate my accomplishments, with nothing to gain, do it for me. Even among the people I call ‘friends,’ this type of friend is rare, but they are the ones that I know I can always count on. 

Build Your Friendships 

Instead of shutting people out of your ‘friend’ list, you should build better friendships. It begins with you. BE that friend who celebrates other people’s victories. If you call someone a ‘friend,’ BE happy if they somehow are better off than you. Even if you think it’s pure luck, BE happy for them. Teach your kids to celebrate their friends’ accomplishments and be happy for others, even when there’s nothing for them. If enough of us choose to be the kind of person who celebrates their friends, our circle of true friendships would be much richer. 

I’m a shitty mom. Or am I?

Just a few weeks ago, at a friendly gathering at my neighbor’s house, he brought to my attention that I am a ‘shitty’ mom. The statement wasn’t as blunt as ‘You’re a shitty mom, Angelica.’ But, as soon as I finished explaining a new project that I was working on for my job, he brought up a conversation that he and his wife had with their 13-year old daughter in which the girl talked about her aspirations for the future. She told her parents that she wants to be a dentist, get married, have kids, and live in a big house. All very attainable dreams, in my opinion. However, my neighbor went on to say that they had to have a 2-hour long ‘intervention’ with their daughter to explain that she couldn’t be both a good mom and a good dentist. And, that if she attempted to do both, she would end up being either a shitty mom or a shitty dentist. 

All of a sudden, I felt as if I were at a tea party during the Victorian period. As he narrated the dialogue with his daughter, his wife smiled. For the next two minutes, I just sat there waiting for the silver lining. I was expecting some cliché about balancing your work and personal life. That one statement that would make me, the only working mom in the room, not offended and bring us all back to the new millennium, to the century when we tell our girls that they can be anything they want: a CEO, an astronaut, a TV celebrity, a mom. Anything. But that statement never came. I assume that the poor girl didn’t take her parents’ opinion easily otherwise their conversation wouldn’t have lasted 2 hours. He justified his views by pointing out that the time required to be a professional and the time demands for parenthood, or better yet, ‘motherhood’ (nothing was said about dads), would make it impossible for women to be good at both. There simply aren’t enough hours in a day. ‘If you are a good professional, you’re a shitty mom,’ he said.

I could easily expose his flawed concepts with a few well-articulated statements. However, if there’s one thing that I have learned about suburban life in the South, is that people hold their guns and their misled values and opinions above reason and common sense. 

Motherhood is a job filled with guilt. No matter what you do, you’re bound to be criticized. I have personally ditched the parenting books soon after I had my first daughter. You give your baby a pacifier, you’re accused of teaching your newborn not to deal with his problems. If you don’t breastfeed, you’re a horrible mom. If you do breastfeed, people will be looking at what you eat. Is it organic? Free of hormones? Gluten free? The act of giving birth itself isn’t free from criticism. I’ve heard a few moms argue that women who has an epidural aren’t good mothers. After all, if they are not willing to feel pain, they can’t be any good. It makes sense, right? Right? 

As far as working and having children, I have been on both sides and I can assure that neither side is guilt free. When I had my first daughter, we weren’t in a financial position for me to quit working. I cut down, for sure. I found a part-time teaching job at a private academy, Monday through Thursday, from 7:30 am to 1:00 pm. Still, I felt horrible for leaving my child at daycare. I also felt that I was missing so much and that it was my job to watch her every minute. Nonetheless, she loved going to daycare. In fact, one of her first words was “yaiya.” That was baby-talk for Layla, her little best friend at daycare. By the time my second daughter came along, my husband had reached a six-figure salary and I was teaching college. My husband’s job was 70 miles from where we lived. He worked long hours and spent at least three hours of his day on the road. At some point in time, we decided that it was good idea to move closer to his work and for me to quit my job to be a stay-at-home-mom. 

Even though I was sad to leave my job, I was also excited about being at home with my kids and never felling guilty again. I embraced motherhood and housekeeping to the fullest. I held my baby and played with her all day. I cooked fancy meals. I decorated cakes with fondant. My house was spotless clean and I ironed all the clothes. I also bought a minivan. Between moving to a new house and the sleepless nights with a newborn, that first year went by in a blur. 

The second year was a little different. My baby was now a toddler and she was frustrated all the time. She seemed much happier with the 30-second interactions she had at the playground with other kids her own age than playing with me. The playground visits became more often. I also started going to the gym and volunteering at the PTO. Eventually, I realized that my toddler needed to play with kids her age without the overwhelming helicopter-mom supervision from the playground. She was active and curious and I could never be as cool as another 2-year old. She started going to a mother’s day out program twice a week for a few hours and that changed her whole mood. It also freed up some time for me to read, shop, etc… I was living the perfect life. Except for one thing. I didn’t have a sense of self-fulfillment. 

There was a good amount of guilt in that life as well. Despite my husband making good money, we were definitely in the lower-end of the six-figure income and I felt as if I was not contributing. I realize that many women who are stay-at-home-moms live on an lower income than mine and I’ve heard my share of “money doesn’t buy happiness.” And although it doesn’t buy happiness per se,  it buys the ‘must-have’ items from Christmas lists, memorable vacations, music classes, tickets for the theatre, and it pays for college. I couldn’t get over the fact that my income could be a college fund or increase the chances to jumpstart my kids’ lives.

I also felt that it was my responsibility to be able to support my kids in case my husband wasn’t there. I worried about him getting sick, dying, or leaving me for the secretary. I know several couples who divorced after years of marriage and the kids had to live with dad because mom couldn’t support them. Sadly, many of these women had unsuccessfully tried to jumpstart their careers after a decade or more of staying at home. 

Women are stay-at-home-moms for different reasons. Some women’s income, especially those without a college degree, doesn’t justify having to pay for daycare. Others find enjoyment being at home. Others do it as the ultimate sacrifice. They put off their careers because they believe that having a mom at home is more important than all of the things that I worry about. For me, it was just the convenient thing to do at that time and I’m glad that I had the option of quitting my job and taking care of my family for a while. But I didn’t feel 100% fulfilled by scrubbing the toilet every day, cooking, and playing puzzles. After four years, I knew it was time to go back to work. 

The transition wasn’t as bad as I had expected. It took a couple of weeks to get our routine down but once that happened, it was a smooth sailing. I leave the house at 6:50 am to drop my younger child at school. My daughter is always on time, nicely dressed, and brings a home packed lunch with a love note inside. The only difference is that by the time we leave the house, I’m wearing full make up and heels, while some moms still have their pajama pants on. My older daughter goes to the same school where I work. So does my neighbor’s daughter. And I transport her every day (at least I know they don’t think I’m a shitty driver). My kids never miss homework or school events. My husband and I alternate the after-school activities and we are always there for presentations, parent teacher conferences, etc. 

Some things did change. We do meal prep on the weekends and I tell my kids and husband to pick up after themselves on a daily basis so that everything doesn’t accumulate for the weekend. When I bring my kids to piano or gymnastics, I bring my work along. We have traveled more, we have two health insurances, and spend quality time together. In all honesty, I don’t think that my kids are missing out on anything due to me having a job. In fact, I believe they only have gained from it. Not only financially, but also by example. There’s great value in observing routine, punctuality, work ethics, and professional accomplishments. Plus, considering the fact that children are in school for at least seven hours a day and assuming that a person works during the day, we’re really not missing much. What really takes the blow is our laundry. Also, my windows haven’t been cleaned for almost a year. 

I never thought of myself as being a feminist. As a general rule, I always try to stay away from labels and be open-minded and respectful towards others. I feel that labels such as feminist, democrat, republican, have a polarizing aspect that excludes the reasonable middle. Much like my 13-year old neighbor, I also always dreamed of having a family, a job, and a big house. Luckily, my dream did come true. I have three college degrees, I have been happily married for 17 years, I have two beautiful girls, and a house that doesn’t seem so big until it’s time to clean it. I understood and welcomed the shift in priorities that came with having a family. However, it never occurred to me that being a good mom and a good professional were mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they seem to complement each other. My idea of happiness is to have it all. There is an incredible sense of fulfillment in having a good job, contributing to society, and being able to share that experience with my own kids. Both of my girls love coming to my school and I’ve observed them, several times, bragging about something that I did at work. My younger little girl even says that she wants to be a teacher when she grows up and be the ‘sweetest mom ever’ like me. 

Perhaps, being a mom to two girls, made my neighbor’s comments personal on different levels. Besides taking on a personal offense, I find disheartening that a dad will sit down to tell his 13-year old that she has to choose between having a profession or a family. Isn’t it his job to encourage and support her in life? Maybe he could offer to baby-sit her children while she’s working. Maybe he could suggest that she opens a practice with a partner so she can work less hours. He could advise her to finish college before getting married. But killing her noble dreams is just cruel. Then I think about my girls. What would I do if my husband said that to one them? One thing is for sure: I would not sit there and smile. He would definitely need to wholeheartedly take it back and apologize for his misjudgment. Perhaps, I would file for divorce. But, again, that’s an option that I have because I have a job and can afford to live on my own. And I will work even harder to make sure that my girls have the same option in the future. Even if my daughters decide to be stay-at-home-moms in the future, I want that to be a choice based on what fulfills them, not a condemnation of incompetency. 

 There’s also the possibility that my neighbor was projecting his own guilt and inadequacy as a parent into the conversation. Who knows? Although very unlikely, maybe he feels like a bad dad because he has a full-time job. After all, he cannot possibly think that he can be a good dad and a good professional but his wife and daughter can’t, right?  I’m no shrink, but maybe Freud can explain his inner motive. Meanwhile, until I see that diagnosis, I’ll blame his comments to his daughter on ignorance and his retelling of the story in my presence on lack of manners. After all, when this shitty mom invites people to her home, it’s to have a good time, not to insult them.  And to all the little girls out there, DREAM ON! You can be anything you want.

To blog, or not to blog, that is the question

I have debated about creating a blog for years. I always felt that, in order to be successful, a blog must have millions of followers. But, recently, I had an epiphany. As as watched my daughters laugh hysterically at someone smashing her face into a piece of bread and I noticed the millions of views, I thought, “Wow! Good for her”. Then, a second later, I realized that more is not necessarily better. In other words, the amount of followers I attract doesn’t reflect the quality or the value of what I share. And, if by sharing my experiences I can help, inspire, or empower even a small group of people, I consider that a success. So, here we are!

What you will find

  • My experiences and opinions about life as it relates to diversity and cultural awareness
  • Resources for teachers [see the Resources page]
  • Motivational content for EVERYONE who feels that they can make the world a better place
  • Traveling – Cultural exchanges
  • Parenting – Raising open minded children
  • Lots of unedited pictures – That’s right! If we ever meet in person, I don’t want you to be disappointed

This blog is for you if…

… you believe that EVERY person is your equal despite their gender, religion, race, ethnicity, physical appearance, citizenship status, social-economic status, or sexual orientation. Unless you are a teacher looking for resources. In that case, feel free to just access the Resources page but I hope you stick around. After all, share the world with all kinds of people.

BIO

If you’re still here and want to know more about me, here’s the scoop:

Personal

I was born and raised in Brazil and immigrated to the US in 2000. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful husband for 17 years and have two girls – Chloe, 13, and Olivia, 6. We also have two pets – a dog and a cat [I’m definitely a dog person, but, please, I don’t tell my cat]. I love spending time with my family and always have something fun planned. I am passionate about teaching and love interacting with people: students, colleagues, random people at the airport, etc.

Education

I hold two undergraduates degrees – the first in International Studies with a minor in Business and the second in Spanish. I also have a Master’s degree in Hispanic Studies which, despite the name, is a literature based course. Even though my first language is Portuguese, I always had a passion for languages and felt a special connection with Spanish and French literature. I took French in college and, even though I am far from being fluent, I love reading books in its original language.

Work

My first job out of college was teaching at an alternative school in Alabama. Afterwards, while I was working on my Master’s degree, I taught college level Spanish as TA. After graduate school, I found a full-time teaching position at Austin Peay State University, in Tennessee. After two years, when my second child was born, I decided to leave that position and be a stay-at-home mom. I enjoyed every moment of it. I focused on my family, was an active PTO member, and, occasionally, worked as a sub at my older child’s school. But, after four years, I knew it was time to go back to work. Currently, I teach Spanish at Central Magnet School and am the coordinator of the Seal of Biliteracy program. Teaching can be very demanding and stressful, but it is also a very fulfilling job. Teaching a language goes beyond finding the meaning of words and sentences. Language is a fundamental piece of communication and cultural understanding.