Posts Tagged ‘birthday’

Quinceaneras and Coming of Age as a Mexican-American

April 22, 2008

It is hard for my students to understand that Mexican is a dirty word in some stretches of middle America. Here in Brownsville, most of my freshman prefer Mexico to the United States in terms of life – not living standards, not poverty level, not economic potential or educational excellence, but vida life. Many of my high-school children do not understand why Brownsville is so quiet at night, why no one walks the streets after dark, why there are so many cul-de-sacs and so few nightclubs. Though they complain that Matamoros always floods after rain, these 14 and 15-year-olds prefer its untidy reality to the American sprawl they see in the strip malls and the vacant 30-story hotels in Brownsville’s historic downtown.

The wall proposed for the Rio Grande Valley and, locally, between Matamoros and Brownsville, would force my students to make a choice they should never have to make – between their cultural past and their economic future. The Secure Fence Act is selective division, and while none of us want a similar wall with Canada or on our Atlantic beach front, the wall seems to be a pointed affront to Latino culture. A border wall through la frontera here in Texas would make the hyphen between Mexican-American more like a minus sign than a symbol of cohesion.

Each xenophobic nativist and any anti-Mexican Minuteman would surely change his/her mind about a Mexican border wall if only they were invited to a quinceanera. This past Saturday I had the profound privilege to attend a the fifteenth-birthday celebration of one of my freshman ESL students. As is a rite of passage when driving in Mexico, my fiance and I got hopelessly lost. Every person we spoke to was very understanding of our direction-less driving, as well as the green coolant leaking out of my tired ’94 Dodge Spirit. Finally, we followed a kindly man and his wife to the Salon de Santa Fe.

Although we missed the religious ceremonies at La Iglesia San Juan de los Lagos, I was immediately struck by the profound meaning of the quinceanera. It was a beautiful event, less like a Sweet Sixteen birthday party and more like a full-blown wedding. Each table had elaborate floral arrangements, hors d’oeuvres, and decorations. We were escorted to our table by the mother of my English-as-a-Second-Language student. She speaks no English, but she is entrusting me and my fellow American teachers with her daughter’s education every week. Her daughter Vero leaves their Mexican house on Sunday evening, not to return until Friday night. Her mom can visit Vero on a day-visa, but she would be outside of the law if she tried to make a permanent residence north of the Rio Grande. Vero is torn between her mother’s love and her aptitude for academics, and so she makes the long trip across the narrow river every week. And all this at fifteen years old.

I beam with pride to see my young student say goodbye to childhood through several dances with her father, her tios, and her childhood boy friends. The Vero who waltzes with her father is the same Vero who aces my vocabulary tests in English. The same girl who giggles and screams unabashedly as she pulls out a kitten from her giant birthday box is the same staid student who always is on time, always helps others, always gives her all. The same girl going table to table to thank all her family friends of Mexico is the same Vero who blesses her newfound American community by volunteering many hours each month.

La frontera is more than just the last home for endangered animals like the ocelot and Sonoran Pronghorn; this borderland is also one of the few places in the United States that celebrates quinceaneras. The quinceanera is a proud moment where a girls’ entire community is able to affirm her life and celebrate her maturation into womanhood. It speaks to the best in Mexican culture. As we snack on avocados and pickled peppers and watch a slide show of her life, I wish all America could witness this beautiful celebration. Dancing cumbias and salsas alongside my students and their vecinos, singing corridos and romanticos with grandmothers and granddaughters, I realize this culture calls out the best in family. The world would do well to look to the Mexican mode of making events significant. In 2007, the Catholic Church officially recognized this profound event with its own liturgy; America and all people of faith could learn a lot about community from this Mexican tradition.

Loving God,
you created all the people of the world
and you know each of us by name.
We thank you for Vero,
who today celebrates her fifteenth birthday.
Bless her with your love and friendship
that she may grow in wisdom, knowledge, and grace.
May she love her family always
and be faithful to her friends.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

(Quinceanera Liturgy)

Driving back across the Mexican-American border checkpoint on the international bridge, past the barbed wire and racial profiling, past the sniffing dogs and warning signs, I ponder why anyone would want to wall off the culture of quinceaneras. While the United States is busy enacting bills like the REAL ID Act and the Secure Fence Act, students like Vero will continue coming of age in a multi-cultural community which is best when it learns from all its immigrants.

Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday, Belatedly

February 13, 2008

    9 score and 19 years ago, Abraham Lincoln was born into the world. In his 56 years of life, he helped guide the United States through its only civil war and to officially abolish the institution of slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation and then the 13th Amendment.

    Texas was the slowest state to accept Lincoln’s end of slavery. It wasn’t until 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, on June 19, 1865, that Texas finally followed Lincoln’s lead and worked to end slavery. The celebration of this Juneteenth day, the official end of slavery everywhere in the United States, is still celebrated every year in Texas on the 19th of June.

    But Texas has not always been behind the tides of change. In 1963, in Crystal City, Texas, the first Mexican-American political officials were voted into office. This groundbreaking event laid the ground for the Chicano movement and greater equality for Mexican-Americans in the United States.

    Today, on Lincoln’s birthday, we have a choice to be at the forefront of change or be stuck in the past. Rather than erect a wall and cease to learn from other countries, we must work hard to be progressive leaders in issues such as global human rights, immigration, green energy, etc. As Dr. King wrote,

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

…True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring…

…A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. (Martin Luther King Autobiography 340-1).

It is imperative the the United States be a leader in civil rights as it has striven to be in the world economy and in its military. What is might and what is a mite without right? Though thousands of people on the border are opposed to a border wall and for a liberalized immigration system, very few people are actively campaigning to make this happen. If you are interested in making Texas the leader on border issues and the focus of the continent, please consider joining the No Border Wall Walk from March 8-16. The march is more than symbolic, more than simply a show of force; this march is solidarity in action – this march will be transformative and historic. Sign up now at http://www.mysignup.com/noborderwallwalk