Passport: La Unión, Zacapa, Guatemala

 

Credit: Alondra R.

Credit: Alondra R.

Since I was a year old, my parents take me to both Guatemala and El Salvador for every summer vacation. While El Salvador is an extraordinary place, my mother’s home town is actually the place closest to my heart. LaUnión, Zacapa, Guatemala is a land filled with genuinely loving people, sights so strikingly beautiful you cannot even imagine in your wildest dreams, and above all, so much culture. Like any other place, it has its good and its bad, but for me it brings nothing but wonderful memories.

Geography and Demographics

The Municipality of La Unión, is one of the 10 municipalities in the department of Zacapa, Guatemala, and belongs to Region III of the northeaster part of Guatemala. The municipality is located on “La Sierra de Merendon,” a tropical forest covered mountain range that reaches altitudes from 800 to 1,500 meters above sea level (approx. 2,625-4,920 ft.). La Unión covers an area of just 211 square kilometers. Despite its small territorial extension, it has a population approximately 25,464 inhabitants, and is the only municipality of Zacapa home to the indigenous Mayan peoples known as the Ch’orti. According to data obtained by the Municipal Planning Department, 88% of the total population lives in the rural area, and 13% of the population lives in the urban center.

Credit: Alondra R.

Credit: Alondra R.

Economy

The poverty levels in the area range from 50-60% and the annual household income is about Q. 6,500.00, which roughly translates into $859.51. Due to the drop in coffee prices, a staple crop of Guatemala, there have been several problems of malnutrition within the community. Approximately 25% of La Union is cultivated with coffee, 15% of the land is not suitable for crops, 24% is covered with rainforest, and the remaining 35% is land devoted to the cultivation of maize, beans, other regional crops, and livestock.  

unnamed-2Customs and Traditions

The inhabitants of La Unión participate in several community events throughout the year. Some of the more popular ones are: the “Juegos Majisteriales, or the “Teacher Games,” a serious of athletic challenges in which the contestants are all professors of local schools, another similar event in which the participants are students, an event called “Flor de la Feria” during which a town beauty queen is chosen and there are various floats and a parade through out the town. For holidays and birthdays, extended families gather together and throw parties, which are accompanied by live music, and very loud fire works. As for religion, Catholicism is the primary religion in La Unión, and when the service bells rings ring the entire town begins to migrate towards the chapel located at the center of town. Despite there being a majority of Catholics, La Union still has a large religious diversity, from Catholicism, to other forms of Christianity, to  Mayan beliefs such as Chorties and Pocoman, to no religion at all.

My grandma's ice cream store Credit: Alondra R.

My grandma’s ice cream store
Credit: Alondra R.

Gastronomy

The Staple meal in La Unión consists of eggs and black beans with table cream, cheese, hand-made corn tortillas, and if lucky fried plantains. This meal is often consumed at both breakfast and dinner. Coffee is not only the staple crop, it is essential to the every day diet. Coffee is consumed at breakfast, lunch and dinner and accompanied with home-made sweet breads. Other traditional foods include Guatemalan Tamales, Chicharron con Yuca, Chiles Rellenos or stuffed peppers, Pepian de Indio a meat and vegetable stew, Ensalada de Escabeche a pickled vegetable salad, Pollo en crema or Chicken in Cream, marinated preserved beef, chicken soup, beef stew, banana bread, sweet corn atole, tosatadas, Fiambre, Salpicon, and Ceviche.

All in all, La Unión is is an amazing place! And it’ inhabitants are happy and proud.

If you’re ever in Guatemala, make sure to stop by.

 

Why I March

Though I’ve always considered myself to be very opinionated, I was never a fan of activism. In fact, growing up I thought activism was inconvenient. I championed a lot of causes through my teens—I boycotted genres of music because I didn’t like the way they depicted women, I stopped eating meat because I believed in humane treatment for animals—but I kept these to myself.

That said, as a young adult I’ve become invigorated by a fervor and a need to stand up for myself and what I believe in. Maybe it’s that I’m older and wiser, maybe is that I’ve been given the opportunity to better educate myself, or maybe it’s just the fanaticism of living in the capital of a battleground state—regardless, I’ve been up in arms and very vocal.

At the start of the 2016 election process, I was rather ambivalent about the whole thing. As a permanent resident of the United States and not a citizen, I wouldn’t be able to vote in the election, and so I thought, “what’s the point?” But despite, I tried my best to get informed, I read articles, I talked to friends, I watched the news, and I opened myself up to a healthy dialogue on the proceedings of this country. At the time I was undergoing a long and oftentimes frustrating battle with immigration for my naturalization, trying my best to become a citizen before voter registration closed. As the months passed, however, it began to appear very evident that it just wasn’t going to happen. I was frustrated, downtrodden, and truly dejected. I was hurt that I was educated, that I was engaged, and that my voice would not be heard.

What hurt me the most is that Latinxs and immigrants were such a hotly debated subject of the election, and I, a Latina immigrant, wouldn’t be able to vote.

It was in the summer of 2016, when the Florida heat was coming to a peak and I was growing more and more dejected in my battle with immigration that it struck me—I might not have a voice in the form of a vote, but I definitely have a voice in the form of influence. I started volunteering for the Democratic Party of Florida. I was out there canvasing and registering people to vote, making sure that they knew how important their vote was—especially in the highly contested state of Florida. The voter registration deadline came and went, then came election night.

I sat down on election night with an election bingo map that I had made myself, I had predicted the states that would go red and which would go blue. I sat down to do homework with the CNN app handy to track the election. After an hour of finding myself getting absolutely no work done, I grabbed a glass of wine and sat in front of the TV, refreshing the CNN app, texting all of my friends, watching county after county go red, then state after state.

My mom isn’t really interested in politics. As immigrants, when we first arrived in Florida in late 1999 her priority was survival. Before she went to bed that night, she texted me, “Déjame saber quién ganó por la mañana,”—let me know who wins in the morning.

I woke up the morning of November ninth with my heart in the pit of my stomach. I barely slept that night, I was lethargic, I didn’t want to go to school, and on the drive to campus I found myself crying. My first thought that morning was how do I tell her? How do I tell my strong Latina mother that the country that she left her culture, her friends, her family, and everything she’d ever known for doesn’t care about her?

By that evening, my disbelief and misery turned into outrage. This country wasn’t going to get to toss me, or any other marginalized individual to the side. I didn’t get to vote, but my voice was going to be heard. That night I taped four sheets of construction paper together, scrawled “F*** Tr***” across it in permanent marker and marched on the capitol.

Exactly one month later, I got my citizenship. I signed petitions, I wrote to senators, I exhausted all of my resources in trying to prevent the inevitable. Then the delegates voted, and then came January 20th. I actively boycotted the inauguration and once more began to feel that sense of hopelessness.

While I was at work, I received a message from one of my friends, “hey—are you going to the march tomorrow?”

I dropped all of my plans and rushed to her house, we made Nasty Woman T-shirts and colorful protest signs. We drove through awful traffic the next morning and met in Rail Road Square. To our amazement, the relatively small city of Tallahassee, Florida had shown out by the thousands to support the Women’s March. We walked through the rain to the campus of Florida A & M University in droves. We didn’t all fit in the rec center where we regrouped—people had to be turned away at the door because we were at capacity. I was soaking wet and shaking, but in looking around me I was reinvigorated. People of all colors, cultures, ages, religions, and gender where there, all speaking with messages of love, solidarity, and support.

And it was in that moment when the true value of protest hit me. To put it plainly, the government and those in power right now might suck. Like, really suck. But, despite we’re still privileged to live in a democracy. As I sloshed through wind and rain wearing my Nasty Woman shirt proudly, I chanted “show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like!”

That’s the beauty of the protest. The unfortunate truth is that while those in power might not care about people of color, immigrants, the disabled, women, refugees, members of the LGBTQ+ community, they are not America. We are America, our voices, our passions, and our differences are America. It was immigrants, religious dissidents, refugees, and people of diverse backgrounds seeking asylum that built the idea of America that we celebrate today. And that gave me comfort. My presence, or anyone’s presence at that protest might have made zero difference in the grand scheme of things. But that’s okay, because I never have to tell my mom that this country doesn’t care about her—I can see that it does in the faces of everyone who marches with me.

Latina Leadership in Guatemalan Animal Sanctuary

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In Guatemala City there’s an animal sanctuary that helps restore injured individuals and populations, and also helps establish the re-release of native species. The sanctuary, named Asociación de Rescate y Conservación de la Vida Silvestre (ARCAS), began as the small Mayan Biosphere Reserve in 1989, but in 1995, expanded into Petén, Guatemala, and Hawaii. ARCAS was founded by a group of Guatemalan citizens, who worked alongside other organizations. While alliances have changed, volunteers have always made up the bulk of the team. Today, we can recognize the efforts of three Latina workers for the success of ARCAS.

Miriam Monterroso, the sister of ARCAS founder Tulio Monterroso, is the current Executive Director of the sanctuary. She took power of the Board of Directors in 1994, after a US NGO affiliate was revealed to be corrupt, causing the reputation of ARCAS to fall, along with economic support. Monterroso, however, was able to turn that setback around, and make the organization stronger. She partnered up with CONAP (Consejo Nacional de Àreas Protegidas, or National Protected Area Council), SIGAP (Sistema Nacional de Àreas Protegidas, or National System of Protected Areas),  San Carlos University, the Human Society International (HSI), and the ZACC (Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation) accredited Columbus Zoo; each of which have helped to establish wildlife research, protection programs, or seminars. In fact, Monterosso herself has lead seminars, such as the 2010 Mangrove Seminar and 2012 ARCAS annual strategic planning seminar. She has also met with representatives across nations, such as Councilman Shinchi Kitajima of Jeju, Korea, for worldwide support. Within ARCAS itself, she has been able to expand the sanctuary into other locations, covering a larger variety of animals available for rescue. Monterosso’s latest project involves the proposed Guatemalan Animal Welfare Law. Currently, Guatemalans cannot report acts of animal cruelty. Implementation of the proposed law would set guidelines for the care of domestic pets, livestock, and even wildlife.

Another current project of ARCAS is the 2016 project to conserve the Yellow-naped Amazon, a species of parrot vulnerable to habitat loss through deforestation. Guatemalan biologist Christina Arravillaga was contracted to lead project. Some of her approaches include training local researchers on monitoring parrot data and establishing education activities at six sites. The project is considered to be a permanent program.

Lucia Garcia, the Director of ARCAS Hawaii, has also implemented programs to save a variety of species. To get to her role from her initial job as a freelance researcher, she faced obstacles like “gender inequality, lack of resources,” and “lack of enough staff.” However, she is now content with her position, claiming that it is more of a “daily passion” than job.

“I feel I have impacted wildlife population; my work here has been with the community in education and in community development. I am sure they (local children) are more conscious about their resources and will take care of (them). At the end, they are the future,” Garcia explains.

As of today, she is working on “policies and laws with the community, master plan of the marine protected area, implement(ation) of a system of trash…tourism, environmental education, migration research with the University of Naples, crawl count data with Telemark University, (and) animal rescue.” Definitely a full, but heroic schedule!

“In Guatemala, gender inequality is one of our greates(t) problem(a)s.” Lucia Garcia confesses. However, at ARCAS “we try to be a place where women have the same opportunities as men. We give equal salaries, we encourage and empower teenagers and girls to get involve(d) with (the) environment, in a way that betters their way of life.”

Considering the leadership and program coordination positions that women take in ARCAS, along with all those who support through volunteering, it can be easily seen that without allowing women in the workplace, ARCAS wouldn’t be as successful. The success of the sanctuary is important to the research and conservation of some of the world’s species, who each play a key role in the preservation of their beautiful environments and our beautiful Earth. Every individual’s contribution counts, no matter who you are, or how much you can achieve. According to Garcia, “there are going to be difficult moments, but have with yourself people that you can trust and that trust you… that will make the difficulties weaker.”

Favorite Cultural Traditions

Chicas share their favorite cultural tradition. 

“My favorite Mexican culture tradition is the food. Which is not exactly a tradition, but it’s the best thing ever.

Mexican food is great! What I love the most about it is how there’s a classic dish that we all love at every family gathering. This is what makes me feel happy, not only for enjoying the food, but also because of what it means. After years and years of trying different types of food, nothing tastes as good as Mexican food to me. I always go back to tacos (the real ones), to enchiladas, mole or whatever is on the table.

Mexican food makes me proud because it is recognized everywhere in the world. This food is from where I belong. Mexican food is best prepared in my home country and, even if someday I get to be far from home, I’ll always remember my family and my hometown because of it.” – Fandi Zapien, 19

 

“My grandmother has always been devoted to La Virgen de Guadalupe. Since we were young she taught us her story, her prayers and how much faith she had in her.

I remember loving when December 12 would come around. Buñuelos, calientitos, champurrado, and posole were some of the food items that were never missing. My favorite part, of course, were the matachines guadalupanos, dancers that would move to the beat of the drums. They would make  so much noise with their colorful attires with every step they took. Also, they would dance in front of a statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe, decorated with flowers and twinkly lights, and would carry her with so much love and care and would dance for her and in her honor. Then, these men dressed in black and with very peculiar masks would dance around, play tricks on people and try to distract the dancers with no success. My mother would tell me it was all part of the performance and it would reassure everyone’s faith.

I also loved how the whole neighborhood would gather around. After the dancers performed they were invited to eat with us. We would serve them and everyone would eat together all the delicious food my grandmother and her vecinas cooked all day long.

At that age I only understood that it was a religious tradition. Something my grandmother, tías, mom, and everyone I knew, had so much faith in. When I grew up I learned more about it. Why people dance for her, why they continue to have faith in her and her whole story, which many don’t know goes way back to when her name was actually Tonantzin. I was so glad to find out that this was something that connected us to our indigenous roots, something I’ve always loved, and it only made me love this day and her story even more.

Now it is my favorite tradition. To me it is more than a religious ceremony or event. It is about family traditions, cultural values and indigenous roots. Things I believe one should never forget.” – Itzel Barraza, 24

 

“My favorite cultural tradition is September 16. I love Mexican food, so I really enjoy this celebration, as well as the dances. I think that this celebration makes people who are far from Mexico become close with their beloved country. The food is so delicious! I love the taquitos, enchiladas, churros, entomatadas, the beverages like limonada, jamaica. GOD! I can go over everything. I really enjoy that people dress as charros and adelitas. I mean, what other cultural tradition can be better than this one? If I were far from my Mexico, this would be the tradition that I would celebrate to get close to my culture. Mexico has many rich and colorful cultural traditions that make it unique and special.” – Ariadne Venegas, 23

 

“My favorite part about my culture is definitely the food. It’s what makes me, me. I love it, I worship it! (not really) but it is awesome! The Enchiladas, the tacos, tostadas, the spiciness, flautas, guacamole, and everything in between! When I think of the food, my face transforms into the emoji with the heart eyes and a smile!– Polet Espinoza, 23

Finding Your Identity

Chicas share how they found their identity through their culture. 

“There was a time in my life where I was confused and hurt, to the point of being embarrassed, of being Latina. I felt this all the way up to high school. I didn’t get the racist remarks that were being thrown around, especially hurtful comments coming from other Latinos.

I don’t think anybody wants to be targeted just because of hate full stereotypes. So growing up and listening to people blaming things like the economy on immigrants or “go back to your country,” was pretty hard to swallow.

The way that I began to accept and see my heritage in a positive light was to respect and admire my parents. They are the epitome of hard workers in a country where their heritage is ridiculed. Once I realized the amazing sacrifice they made for my family, it was the moment when I stopped being ashamed. This of course applies to all parents from Latin American countries, where some of us wouldn’t even be here.

The next step was something that I already followed. This was appreciating the beauty of my culture. I mean in the telenovelas are the bomb, well some of them, especially comedic ones like La Fea Más Bella. I’ve always loved Mexico’s beautiful scenery and its various cities.

Another thing that helped me was to know that one’s culture is so much more than what the haters have to say, who really are just full of ignorance. When you are really full of positivity there is not much to pull you out of there.” –Sarai Melchor, 21

 

 

 

“My parents and I have always identified as Hispanic. Despite my grandparents being from Mexico (except for my Chinese maternal grandfather), my parents grew accustom to the culture where they were born and raised in: Belize. For those of you who do not know, Belize is the only country in Central America that doesn’t have Spanish as the official language; however, more than 50% of Belizeans’ first language is Spanish and identifies as Hispanic/Latino. Much like the United States, Belize is a multicultural nation, and the term Hispanic is prominently used to describe someone from a Spanish-speaking family.

The first time I self-identified as Latina instead of Hispanic was in the fourth grade. It started when a bleach blonde-haired boy asked me the common question: “What are you?”

I could’ve answered human and pranced away like a clever goddess, but 10-year old me wasn’t quite yet fluent in quick sarcasm.

“I’m Asian — and Latina,” I answered cautiously.

My schoolchildren peers’ eyes widened in shock. Their reactions were similar to if I had blurted one of the seven words you should never say on television (by the way, don’t look that up, kiddos!). However, their expressions went from shock to slight disgust quickly.

“Isn’t that, like.. I thought that…that’s a bad word,” stumbled the bleach blonde-haired boy.

A bad word? I thought. I stood there quietly (I was an extremely timid child).

The now-blushing, naive bleach blonde-haired boy continued, “Well, you know, that is used for dirty girls.. BIG girls.. like, women.. who are, you know.. they’re in those music videos and other dirty videos.. and they’re oily and they try to be s-e-x-y.”

If someone was to say that to the present-day me, I would’ve sit them down and school them with my Big Book of Radical Intersectional Feminism: The Woke Latina Edition (coming to a hippie book fair near you!). But 10-year old me just walked away.

I think the media’s portrayal of Latinas is partially to blame for the contribution of the bleach-blonde haired boy’s offensive perception of Latinas. We are often stereotyped as sultry mistresses, and if we’re not the sultry mistress, we are the “no-speak-English” maids. For example, the talented Columbian actress Sofia Vergara, mostly known for her character, Gloria, in the tv series Modern Family, can be incredibly funny. But I’ve noticed her skits on award shows or other tv specials misuses her sexuality as the main focus.

And I’m not suggesting that celebrating your body is dehumanizing. Some women are empowered by showing more skin and embracing their sexuality, and that’s absolutely okay! But it shouldn’t define Latinas as a whole. We are more than sexiness. I naturally break Latina stereotypes by being extremely quiet and dressing conservatively, but I don’t think young Latinas should focus on breaking stereotypes because it pressures young girls to assimilate with American culture for acceptance. I want to be remembered as a kind person who loved literature, social justice, and animals. And the way I dress, whether it’s conservative or exposing, and the way I talk, chatty or soft, shouldn’t contribute to who I am. (Take notes, little bleach blonde-haired boy!)

As for labeling myself Latina or Hispanic, I embrace both terms. I am Latina because my grandparents are from Latin America, and I am Hispanic because I grew up in a Spanish-speaking family. But in my heart and my blood, I am of East Asian (Chinese) and Indigenous (Mayan) descent, and I proudly identify as that.” – Kayla Alamilla, 17

Mi Barrio: Female Saints and Heroes Exhibit

Photo Credit: Elpasoartmuseum.org

Photo Credit: Elpasoartmuseum.org

The exhibit of Female Saints and Heroes, on display at the El Paso Museum of Art (EPMA), is not unlike the women portrayed in the collection of paintings. Tucked away in the innermost point of the museum, this exhibit showcases a modest 26-piece collection of petite paintings, which would seem rather unremarkable at first glance when compared to the grandiose six-foot tall renaissance works hung in gold-plated frames just a few steps away. In fact, if you blink, you just might miss it. And yet despite its humble quality, the exhibit’s contents and its existence actually carry a great amount of significance.

Those 26 paintings are referred to as retablos (translated as “behind the altar”). The retablos are devotional images common throughout Mexico, which depict Catholic religious figures, especially saints. The EPMA houses a total of 900 of these types of paintings from the 1800s, but has chosen to display such a small portion of its collection for one very important reason; these are the only retablos that focus on women. According to the museum’s website, only 20% of all 19th century Mexican retablos depict female saints, and those that do were created specifically for a female audience. The idea was for average Mexican women to view these retablo saints as spiritual role models.

Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise that the frequency of these female-centered retablos should be so low. The history of underrepresentation of women in arts and media is long, and continues to this day. With this in mind, it is easy to walk into this exhibit ready to recognize symptoms of gender inequality or gender stereotypes. These retablos do have some disturbing recurring themes, such as the idea that a woman may become spiritually enlightened or worthy of praise only if she will suffer silently. (A trio of retablos that illustrate Saint Rita smiling peacefully with a wound on her forehead reinforce that theme.) Although the female retablos do demonstrate some signs of a male-dominated culture, it is also important to recognize the rather surprising amount of feminism that is also present in these paintings.

The Female Saints and Heroes retablos are more than portraits of women in traditional roles of housewife or mother. Churches were, and still are, considered very sacred spaces to followers of Catholicism. The fact that any female image would be hung upon a church wall as an example of a strong, wise, powerful person means that women at least had the potential to be highly regarded or admired, even in macho 19th century Mexico.  There are even two retablos featured in the exhibit, Trinity with Two Saints and Trinity and Six Saints, that include a woman amongst a group of male saints and warriors. “This exhibit is important,” reads one museum plaquard, “by reminding us how these larger-than-life women inspired the spritual devotion and action of everyday women in 19th century Mexico.”

Female retablos may be few and far between, they may be small, and they may even be a little somber at times. The point is that they give us glimpse into the role models of the Latinas who came before us. They are portraits of the women who many of our great, great grandmothers prayed to be like. This exhibit gives a space to the retablos that inspired the wisdom and strength of Mexican women who may not have had their voices heard in the 19th century, but who passed on those traits to the Latinas raising their voices and claiming their own space in the 21st century.

The Female Saints and Heroes exhibit is featured at the El Paso Museum of art through November 6.

Latina Beat: Speaking Kriol

Butterfly logoA brief explanation of my culture background: My Spanish-speaking paternal grandparents are originally from Mexico. My maternal grandmother, also originally from Mexico, spoke Yucatec Mayan and Spanish. My maternal grandfather was born in China and spoke Cantonese. My paternal grandparents gave birth to my father in Belize, and my father and his brothers were raised in Belize by my great-grandmother who was also Mayan, but spoke Spanish to my father and uncles. My mother was raised in Belize as well and grew up speaking English, Spanish, Mayan, Cantonese and Kriol. Kriol is the most popular language in Belize. It’s sort of a broken English dialect spoken with a thick Caribbean accent. My father used to speak Kriol, but he is now only fluent in Spanish and English.

Whew. I hope you got that.

Growing up in a multicultural family, I celebrated a lot of holidays, including traditional American holidays like Thanksgiving and Fourth of July. I celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Good Friday every year because my mother is Catholic. I also celebrate Mexican holidays like Cinco de Maya and Dia De Los Muertos, and I visit Belize every couple of years to celebrate the country’s Independence Day on September 21. And of course, I celebrate Chinese New Years, too!

However, there were some downsides. I was picked on in school for speaking odd. I spoke mostly Kriol at home, but I also spoke English and Spanish, and the languages sort of got mixed up in me. Instead of saying “three” I would say “tree” or instead of saying “thumb” I would say “tum” and I never knew native English speakers can distinguish simple mistakes. It didn’t help that my Asian features are most prominent. And the problem wasn’t just with my friends at school. When I went to Belize, my Belizean family made fun of me for speaking too “American.”  And my Spanish-speaking family always complain about how I cannot roll my r’s properly and that I speak Spanish like a gringa, but my accent was definitely not “white,” it was Caribbean. For a long time, I felt like I wasn’t fluent in any language.

As you can see, it’s a mess.

However, now I’ve learned that the different cultures that are a part of me is what makes me uniquely beautiful. ‘Til this day, Kriol is still the language I’m most comfortable speaking. I do not care what people think about my accent because I know I can speak English, Spanish, and Kriol – just in my own way. And that’s okay.

Haunted: Legends of Our Past

One part of our culture is the leyendas or legends that are passed down throughout the time. As legends are passed through the grape vine each person, family, or even city has different versions of legends. Legends were once used to pass time or even scare children into behaving. Legends are an important part of our culture and are fun to talk about at anytime.

La Llorna:
“The crying woman” which is the literal translation of the phrase, is one of the most infamous leyenda. Though there are many versions of the story they all tell of a woman drowning her children either in sorrow, insanity, or selfishness. The tale most commonly goes that a young beautiful Mexican woman fell in love with a Spaniard, they had two children together. She waited and waited for him to make her his wife but that day never came. One day she decided she could hold her silence no more and traveled to his house to talk to him of their future. Upon her arrival she saw a fiesta (party) going on; it was her Spaniard’s wedding celebration to another woman. She was incredibly heartbroken and in a fit of insanity she drowned her children in the nearby river. She later realized what she had done and was cursed to wander the earth forever searching for her children. Some versions say that she drowned her children because she was waiting for her husband who never returned or that she wanted to rid herself of the burden the children caused. Each version warns children to not be out late at night because La Llorna searches each night for her lost children.

La Calle de la Quemada:
This legend despite its title (“the street of the burnt woman”) is not haunting like most legends, but instead tells the love story between Doña Beatriz and Martin Scipoli. Doña Beatriz was the most beautiful girls in her town; she easily charmed all men and had many suitors. Her father constantly pestered her to marry one of the men that loved her but she did not love any of them. One day she met a young Italian by the name of Don Martin Scipoli and they instantly fall in love. Soon the couple reaches turmoil as Don Martin is incredibly jealous and fights with everyman who looks at Beatriz. Doña Beatriz grows fearful that he only loves her for her beauty and decides to create a test. She places a wet handkerchief on her eyes and buries her face in coals becoming incredibly disfigured. Upon seeing her Don Martin does not act disgusted but instead ask her to marry him. They loved each other and neither one ever lived in fear again.

Pascualita:
There once was a clothing store in Chihuahua and the owner of the store (Pascuala Esparza) was said to have one of the most beautiful daughters in all of Mexico. Her daughter was soon to be married and on her wedding day tragedy struck, she was bitten by a black widow. Pascuala sunk into a depression and the store was closed for weeks. When the store re-opened everyone was in raptures over a new mannequin placed at the largest window in the store. The mannequin was incredibly beautiful and looked very life like. Soon people began to wonder about the mannequin because its eyes seemed to follow you and sometimes people swore it would come to life by smiling or winking at you. It was said that Pascuala found it difficult to part with her daughter that she preserved her body in the form of a mannequin.

By Ytzel McDaniel

Soy Bilingüe

 These Latina women tell their story and the experiences they’ve had growing up in a world where they have to balance two different cultures and two different languages. Some have more experience speaking English and Spanish, but being Mexican-Americans and coming from Latino families, they all agree that living between both worlds and both languages just became part of their normal lives.

Bianca Castrejon grew up in El Paso Texas. Her grandparents and father grew up in Mexico; being second generation in the United States, English is her first language. She shares that in school, speaking English was a requirement while speaking Spanish was punished, yet because her family spoke to her in Spanish she is familiar with both.

Because my family speaks a lot of Spanish, there’s some words that I know in Spanish better than I know in English. Sometimes I’ll be mixing the two even though Spanish is not my first language,” Bianca shares.

Bianca is not the only one to mix these two languages; many agree that living in an area with such a strong Latino culture, it becomes a normal thing. Evelyn, who lives in a bilingual home, feels more comfortable speaking English. She comments on her views of those who speak this new language, Spanglish.

“Most people that do speak Spanglish are learning English, they went to school in Mexico and then came over here. They can’t just pick up English so they mix it. I don’t see a problem with it, Spanish is their language and they are trying to catch English,” she adds.

Sharlenne Zubia, who feels that she is fluent in both languages, grew up in the border region of the United States and mixes both frequently.

“I’ll say something like quiero esos red shoes, I’ll mix English and Spanish,” she says.

When asked if she thought this was okay she responded that “as long as you can communicate, I think it’s fine.” She explains everyone in her community find this normal.

With 41 million native speakers in the United States plus an additional 11.6 bilingual speakers, all women feel that knowing both languages and being bilingual has now become a great advantage.

Vanessa Ramirez, who speaks Spanish at home and English at school shares that “when you apply for a job, they prefer the ones who are bilingual.”

These women are not only used to hearing and using both languages, but looking back at history and how the world has become highly globalized, it should then come as no surprise that surely knowing both languages is a positive thing. Yet, some of the girls share some of their negative experiences when accidentally mixing both when speaking.

Ariadne Venegas was born in El Paso Texas yet continues to live in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. She spends a lot of time in the United States and actually started learning English when she was in kindergarten. Even though Spanish is her first language, spending so much time in the United States has resulted in some English words occasionally slipping out.

Porque ya paso la mayoria del tiempo aquí. But it’s not because I want to. Like, I can’t remember the word in Spanish,” she shares.

She says that at times, doing this, brings negative remarks from Spanish speakers.

[My dad] he would tell me don’t use both languages because you will be called chicana…that’s why I refer it as a bad thing because my dad put me into that culture, mixing both languages I would be called chicana, but I mean I kind of don’t like the word because nobody should be called that way, I mean, it’s a culture, it’s just a culture,” she adds.

When it comes to culture, sometimes mixing both languages creates challenges.

I’m always being called white cause I’m mixing both languages,” Sharlenne says.

Bianca believes that because of this reason “being multicultural is a challenge.”

Not everyone is going to understand, because you’re coming from a different culture and you’re managing two cultures and not everyone is going to be understanding and tolerant of the language…it comes with its ups and downs….that’s probably where the issue kind of lies because people think black or white, either or, so pick one,” adds Bianca.

It’s like a double work for us because we have to learn Spanish and then we have to learn English,” says Ariadne.

Still, after experiencing some of these negative reactions, all agreed that they were proud of being Latinos in the United States and having the opportunity of sharing both cultures and both languages. Additionally, they comment on how they are proud and would even teach their children and the future generations to be bilingual.

The Latino culture is now expanding so more people are speaking the Spanish language,” adds Ariadne.

That’s just the result of somebody balancing two cultures, living here in America but having your roots and family in Mexico. And that’s just the result, speaking Spanglish,” comments Bianca.

Being bilingual is something valued greatly in this globalized world, and having multiple cultures should be something to be proud of. While before, Latinos in the United States were forced to forget their roots and language, now they can hold on to their origins and still belong to the American culture and society.

All for One and One for All

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Just like Oprah Winfrey says: “It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you came from. The ability to triumph begins with you, always.” That’s the case for 3 women who came from different backgrounds and made huge changes in history. Manuela Solis Sager, Emma Tenayuca, and Luisa Moreno Manuela are activists who joined thousands of workers to speak up and fight for their rights.

Manuela Solis Sager, Emma Tenayuca and Luisa Moreno led Mexican workers’ movements in Texas during the 1930’s. Each of these women had a key role in one of the most famous conflicts of Texas labor history: “The 1930 strike at the Southern Pecan Shelling Company.”  In the course of the strike, thousands of workers in more than 130 plants opposed to a wage reduction, which was one cent per pound of shelled pecans. Sager, Tenayuca, and Moreno led the way for many who were hopeless and who had been mistreated by tyrants in farming, agriculture and in big factories. The women went out of their way, without caring about the risks involved, to pursue freedom and fair rights for men and women.

Manuela Solis  Sager 

Manuela Solis  Sager was a Texas activist who married a man who helped to organize garment and agricultural workers in Laredo, TX.  She became one of the first official organizers of the South Texas Agricultural Workers’ Union (STAWU) and worked in the Rio Grande Valley, which is considered to be one of the most challenging places to run. Manuela and her husband, James, played very important roles in a labor dispute involving the Mexican pecan shellers — the majority happened to be women. Manuela Solis Sager routed her conviction for human rights into activism. During her life, she was involved with the Chicano Movement, a women’s movement, immigrant rights, and opposition to U.S. interventionist foreign policy.

Emma Tenayuca

Emma Tenayuca, a Mexican-American, was known for being a labor leader, an union organizer and an educator. Tenayuca was brought up in a large family of eleven and lived with her grandparents at an early age to ease the economic hardship of her family. Emma was born into a Tejana family who were victims of the independence and the U.S.-Mexico War. Unfortunately, Emma and her family were affected by the Depression, but this became an eye opener for Emma Tenayuca to see the struggle of the low-class workers.

Luisa Moreno

Luisa Moreno belonged to a wealthy family in Guatemala City, Guatemala. As a teen she assembled “La Sociedad Gabriela Mistral,” where she successfully performed as a leader. Moreno turned down her elite lifestyle and decided to pursue a career in journalism in Mexico City. She brought workers together in unions, directed strikes, wrote pamphlets in English and Spanish, and gathered the 1939 Congreso de Pueblos de Habla Española, which become the first national Latino civil rights assembly.

Like these women, don’t be afraid of dreaming big. Instead use fear to empower you to defeat challenges in your life and to reach your desires and goals.