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Two Worlds; One Front Door

Were you as confused as I was?


by Dr. Shirley

Having parents that immigrated to the USA from Latin America was a very confusing experience for me. Now the confusion didn’t start until I was in Kindergarten when no one could understand what I was saying because they spoke a different language…..English, after all we were in America, that’s North not South mom and dad! But, to my parent’s credit, they wanted my sister and I to learn Spanish, so English was not allowed in the house. Of course, a little English learning would have been nice to know BEFORE going to school, but oh well, kids are resilient, they adjust, right? My emotional scars would beg to differ, but because they didn’t show and no one can see them, they could be ignored. I’m not bitter. I’m not!

In or around the Second grade I started to notice that my household was different than that of my friends at school. First, my friends didn’t kiss their mom when they got dropped off or picked up from school. My friends stayed after school and played sports and on Mondays they talked about how fun their weekend play dates or sleepovers had been. I was never allowed to stay after school and play or go to friend’s houses because my parents were very fear based and believed that America was full of bad people due to the movies they had seen. They never acculturated or learned enough English to communicate with the parents of my American friends. With “el canal 34”, the “novelas”…..(who remembers Veronica Castro and her struggles through homelessness, traicion and venganza?? Yes, I grew up on them, waaay too young to know what extra-marital affairs were as telenovelas were full of them) and their Spanish-speaking community of friends, who needed to learn English?

So, I guess not surprisingly, I started to feel like I lived in two worlds, separated by my front door. I was always amazed at what a difference a door could make! Who hasn’t been chased around the house by a mother with a crazy look in her eyes holding a chancleta? I guess I shouldn’t complain, my mother wore the soft terry cloth ones with the pliable white rubber sole. I had a friend whose mother wore Dr. Scholl’s. Who remembers Dr. Scholl chancletas? Suffice is to say that the sole was made of wood, about 1 inch think, ouch! That clikity clak sound still torments my friend to this day! And the food, which in my adult years I was able to really appreciate but the torment I got from the kids in school when they would pull out peanut butter and jelly and I pulled out an eggplant parmasian or milanesa sandwich. I can still hear it now, “Ewww, what’s that?” Being as shy as I was, it didn’t occur to me to say something like, “It’s better than the boring sandwich you’re eating!” I just shrunk and wilted like a flower under the heavy weight of shame. Oh how I would plead with my mother, “Ma, dame peanut butter y jelly para lunch manana, por favor!” To which she would respond with, “Y eso que es? Que, no te justa lo que te hago para comer? Sos una desagradecida!” Oh the guilt! Who can relate to GUILT every time you brought up something you didn’t like??? And please tell me you weren’t as naïve as I was when your friend at school told you she had a tummy ache! Did you break into the “sana sana culito de rana….” song? God I hope not. I did. The horrified look on my friend’s face taught me to never do that again, although having been a 1st grader at the time, I didn’t quite understand why. I just wanted to help her feel better!

And what’s with the lack of privacy or respect for boundaries?? What boundaries? They don’t exist in Latin households! What I always found interesting was the lack of treating one as an adult, “Tenes el saco, hace frio afuera.” “Yes, mom, I’m 20, me tenes que seguir aciendo acordar?” (said with an eye roll) To which you would then get the “martyresque” response of, “Si, ya se que soy la peor madre del mundo!” Oh God the dramatics were unbelievable! And wasn’t it ironic that such dramatics DID NOT lead to a better understanding of emotions in general. Did you ever get a “cambia la cara” when you looked upset or sad? Really? I just need to “change my face” and everything will be better, just like that?! But then you were expected to grow up, mature and get married by 25 AND ready to have kids. What?! I did mention my confusion, right?

Now as an adult, and having worked through many issues, I can appreciate my Latin roots. Only if you grew up in America with Latin parents could you really relate to those hilarious classic staples of our childhood, like: plastic covered sofas, the statue of saints in every room, the Spanish version of English words like “con fleis”, “tenis” to refer to any sport shoe, lonchear—to have lunch, vacumear—to vacuum, parkear—to park and my ALLTIME favorite: Vivaporu, which I actually only put together after I had my daughter. One night she was having trouble sleeping due to a cold. I immediately remembered that my mother would rub “Vivaporu” on my chest and temples because the menthol would clear up my sinuses and help me breathe. Vivaporu was a standard in our household and it always came out when someone got sick. So I went to the drug store in search of Vivaporu and couldn’t find any. After going to three stores I remember thinking, wow, this must be a popular item everyone has run out! I called my mother to ask her if I could come by and pick some up from her. I get to her house and she hands me a jar of…….wait for it…..VICK’S VAPOR RUB! I almost fell out I was laughing so hard. Get it? She took every syllable and turned it into a word all it’s own!

If you can relate to any or all of these stories, this website is for you! Here, I will post different stories from people who grew up just like us. Half Latino and half American, separated only by the front door. I envision it as a place where you can call your home away from home. A place where you feel seen, heard and understood. Where you can read about and interact with others who can relate to growing up in the same way you did and the struggles that may have come as a result. We will discuss difficult issues but this will also be a place where you can learn: get beauty tips, dating tips, parenting ideas and laugh a little with our chisme corner, because being Latin means you love a good piece of gossip, of coarse all in good fun!

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