Wednesday, June 25, 2008

ReflexiĆ³nes de Mexico (Reflections from Mexico)

Hola! I have returned from Mexico, and I apologize for not blogging sooner. But as Ash said, we had a pretty tight schedule with many responsibilities. I'm going to follow Ashley's lead and share my reflections as well. The following is the reflection from the first week in Cuernavaca. Disfruten. (Enjoy)

I must admit, though, being here in Cuernavaca has had an effect on me. I have been observing my host family. My observations have led me to reflect on myself and my family and how we operate.

I have watched Mami Elena wake up early and prepare breakfast for her grandchildren, Carla and Rodrigo, my “sisters” and me. When I return from school the house is clean, my bed is remade (even though I make it in the morning), and food is cooking on the stove. Then she serves us la comida and watches us eat, making sure we are satisfied and full until we nearly explode. Then she cleans the kitchen along with her daughters, Norma and Gabriella. All the while, my “nephew” Rodrigo stands by the table talking and joking with us. Mami Elena makes sure we are okay before she leaves to go to her room. Mami Elena takes care of us, her two daughters and her grandchildren. Her daughter Gabriella and her two children, Carla and Rodrigo, live with Mami Elena and Norma is also living here temporarily. Mami Elena reminds me so much of my mother. I remember my mom would always have the house cleaned and food ready. And my mother’s pantry is never empty, and she is always ready to fatten you up. My mother gives and gives, and takes care of the family. Every time I visit she cooks a meal and when I leave I have a bag of various goodies that she packed. We (my brother, sisters, and I) can always go to my mother and be taken care of. Mami Elena and my mother are citadels. They are the glue in the family. These two women keep their family together. They are the super glue. Being here watching Mami Elena makes me appreciate and remember my mother. And I hope to one day be the super glue for my family.

I told my roommate, Ashley, the other day that I am having a “walk a mile in my shoes” type of experience. I have so many friends in Indianapolis from other countries who are at IUPUI to study, and some of them live with their families, some live on their own, and others live with host families. Some of my international friends did not know how to speak English when they first arrived to the U.S. One friend who specifically comes to my mind is Kristiane. She is from Brazil and lived with a host family for four years and started to learn English when she came to the U.S. Even now, when we talk, she may not know a certain word and I will have to tell her and teach her how to pronounce it. This is how I am feeling down here. I already know how to speak broken Spanish, but actually being here in Mexico causes me to speak Spanish all the time, just like my friend has to speak English all the time in the U.S. But I have similar moments where I don’t know a word in Spanish and I have to ask a Spanish-speaker for help. It is a very humbling, exciting and a mind-opening experience. Being in Cuernavaca makes me feel so much like Kristiane – I am in a foreign country, living with a host family, studying at a school and learning an (almost) foreign language.

Spanish isn’t really foreign to me at all, because I am Puerto Rican and my parents speak Spanish. They didn’t teach my siblings or me how to speak the language, however, and that is a long story in which I won’t attempt to explain. I heard Spanish all through my childhood and I decided to learn it in high school. Ever since high school I have had Latino friends and have spoken Spanglish. The language and Latino/Hispanic culture are not foreign to me at all, and I think that is why I feel so at peace here. I truly feel at home, as if I have lived here for years or was possibly born here. The culture here mirrors the culture of my family and my family in New York, Florida and Puerto Rico. The food (which is slightly different than Puerto Rican dishes), music, lifestyle, smells, and the colors remind me all too well of my Puerto Rican heritage. It doesn’t matter if I am in Mexico, I have begun to believe that we are the same. Yes, we have distinctions such as different dialects, facial features and unique foods, but there is some type of cord that threads us together. I even feel Mexican, which would have been odd to me a few years back.

I would have laughed and denied myself a few years ago if someone told me that I was going to fall in love with Mexico. This is because there is this age-old “beef” or joke between Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. For some reason my family and my other Puerto Rican friends have made fun of Mexicans since I can remember, but I never really knew why. Also, we all would get very upset when someone would assume we were Mexicans. We would scrunch our faces up, throw our hands in the air and say things like, “What the hell are you thinking?” or “Hell no!” as if it is a disease to be Mexican. But once I befriended Carla*, who I have known from church since I was probably 10, my perceptions began to change. If someone accidentally assumed I was Mexican (which is quite often) I would not be as offended. I would politely tell them about my background and tell them that there are all types of Latinos in the United States. Carla introduced me to sopa de fidello, Paulina Rubio and Luis Miguel, and how to get down at Latino fiestas. She also taught me how to be lazy - that is what I used to call it, but now that I am in Mexico I see that everyone here just seems to take their time. Also, Carla would always talk about Mexico (and I am sure she still does). She would say, “Man, in Mexico the food is so much fresher than the food here” or “Well, in Mexico there are so many places one can go – you can never get bored.” She constantly compared Mexico to the U.S., and, frankly, it was very annoying. But dear Lord, I now know what she was saying. I find myself comparing Cuernavaca to Indianapolis almost everyday. I don’t want to leave this place!

*Name has been changed for privacy

Sinceramente (Sincerely),
Trina Otero

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More from Mexico

Here is part of one of my weekly reflections, ENJOY!

Con amor,

Ashley

The La Lagunilla library project has been near and dear to my heart for the better part of a year now, and I still believe that the project is important to the people of La Lagunilla and to my own professional development. But, this week I truly had to question why I have never dedicated myself so completely to a service project as much as I have dedicated myself to this project. Though this is a complicated question that I am sure I will have to reflect upon more, the answer I came up with this week is this: sometimes when it comes to my own community and culture I am disinterested and complacent.

Since I have been in Cuernavaca I have complained about not having enough time to see the sites, or truly immerse myself in the culture. But this week I truly thought about that. How much of my own hometown have I really seen? I am guilty of calling Indiana a boring place to live, but how many times have I really focused my energy on experiencing interesting things that Indianapolis has to offer? Perhaps one of the reasons I have a problem adjusting to the Mexican culture is because I do not really appreciate culture as much as I thought that I did.

As I prepare to return to Indianapolis and IUPUI I have been thinking a lot about how the experience here can influence my personal and educational life. I came here expecting to learn a lot about ways to serve the growing Latino population in Indianapolis, and I have learned a lot. But, unexpectedly, I have also realized that it is really important for me to appreciate my own culture and share this culture with others.

When I return to Indianapolis I hope that I can approach my daily activities with as much desire and passion that I have approached this program with. I hope that educating teens in Indianapolis will be as important to me as educating the kids at La Lagunilla has been to me while I have been here. Though I have been frustrated with my inabilities in certain areas since I have been in Cuernavaca, once the dust from the frustration settled I always wanted to push myself to do better and learn as much as I could.

I hope that this drive will follow me to Indianapolis, and though I think I will be happy being back in a place where I know the customs and the language a lot better, I never want to be complacent about what I have to offer to or what I have to learn from my own environment again.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Reflection

Hola from Mexico,

It has been a long time since I have blogged!!! Trina and I are in Mexico as week speak and our schedule is jammed packed with stuff to do. But, we are having a great time. I don't have a lot of time but I wanted to blog. As part of our participation in the "To Mexico with Love Program" we are required to write reflections each week that we are here. Since we don't have much downtime I am going to post part of my first reflection for you all to read. I hope you enjoy hearing about our experiences...

Con Amor,

Ashley


Reflection 1

The one experience that stood out to me the most in the first week here was when we went to visit the service sites for the first time. I remembered that in our pre-departure meetings we talked a lot about some of the poverty that we might see here in Mexico. I expected that I would see many people that I would consider less fortunate than I am. Though I grew up in the inner city, and I knew many people that most would consider poor, before I came to Mexico I thought that the kind of poverty I would see in Mexico would be vast and depressing.

Though I knew that the area around Ideal was going to be pretty nice, I was sure that when I went to visit La Lagunilla I would see some of the poverty we talked about in our meetings. But, I was completely surprised at what I saw when we first visited La Lagunilla. Though I expected the people of Mexico to be a lot different from my family and I, when I went to La Lagunilla I was surprised to see how similar the women there were to the women in my family.

The women of La Lagunilla embodied something my mother used to say to me when I was a little girl. Whenever I was upset because I could not get some toy or name brand shoe that my friends had I would say to my mother, “I hate being poor!” My mother would just turn toward me and say, “You will never know what poor is because you have someone people who love you so much.” At the time I did not understand what she was saying, but as I grew up I began to understand how love is a force that can overcome any physical limitations. From the brightly painted walls, to the welcoming smiles of the women, La Lagunilla is a place filled with warmth and love.

When I looked at the women of La Lagunilla for the first time I realized how much the strength of the human spirit is something that transcends culture, race, and economic status. When I listened to the elder of the group tell the history of the colony of La Lagunilla the feeling I felt was not amazement, but pride. She told us how the women had to rally against the government in order to protect their neighborhood and their culture. She also told us how the women came together to build the community center so that they could have a place where they could help one another with, childrearing and professional skills.

Like at La Lagunilla, in my family it is the women who run the show. The women in my family have always shared childrearing responsibilities, and helped each other advance in their careers. I think I felt pride when I heard the story of La Lagunilla because, quite unexpectedly, I felt a connection with these women. Before going to La Lagunilla I saw myself as helping a group of less fortunate people gain access to information and skills that I had. After the first visit to La Lagunilla, I began to see myself as part of their community and see this service opportunity as a chance to exchange ideas and join a cross-cultural community of women.