A bit of tradition in Ithaca

Coloring la Virgencita

[Mainly written on December 12th.]

I grew up celebrating Nuestra Señora la Virgen de Guadalupe’s feast day on December 12th at St. John Vianney. I sang, danced, prayed and ate. I loved the danzantes, the mariachi and the food at the party immediately after mass. Even in the years I rarely went to church I still observed this day. Guadalupano roots run deep.

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to celebrate in Ithaca. The churches here don’t have regular Spanish language masses. One church hosts a monthly mass in Spanish and that’s where I found out that there would be a mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe hosted by the Cornell Catholic Community . Andrea asked if anyone wanted to help sing and I volunteered.

Sean dropped us off at the chapel at 11:30. I was late for the mini choir rehearsal but it was still okay since the music was familiar. Xavi sat patiently and watched Andrea play the guitar and Anna play the piano. We practiced and the non Spanish speakers quickly learned the unfamiliar songs.

The chapel at Anabel Taylor Hall was more full than I expected with a lot of students. The service was a bit different than I’m used to. It was in Spanish, sure, but instead of a mariachi a small choir accompanied by piano and acoustic guitar sang the traditional songs like La Guadalupana and Las Mañanitas. There were no danzantes, kids dressed up as Juan Diego or in traditional Mexican clothing or an elaborate dedication of flowers in La Virgencita’s alcove. What wasn’t different was a gathering afterward with food. Xavi was happy with rice and tortilla chips and I tried to restrain myself when I saw students bring out tamales. They were delicious. Despite the differences and that I barely knew anyone at the service, it was the closest I’ve felt to home in our six months in Ithaca.

I’m glad Xavi got to experience a tradition I’ve grown up with. I can’t wait until he gets his own little Juan Diego outfit and sings along. He comes from a long line of Guadalupanos and I’m happy to continue this tradition in los cerros (hills) of Ithaca.

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Remembering Alicia

On Sunday my dad called me. I knew what he was going to say before he said it. _____ passed away, mija.

There’s something about his voice that is hard to hide when he calls to share news about a family member or friend’s passing.

This time the name was Alicia. He didn’t even need a last name.

Remembering Alicia

Alicia has always been just Alicia since I first got to know her in the early 1990s through church. Alicia was the primary organizer and benefactor of a ballet folkórico that formed at church. She did so much for us. She took time out of her schedule to organize the rehearsals, found places for us to perform and even helped pay for the fabric to make the dresses.

She showed us she cared and accomplished what she set out to do by starting the group. I don’t know when it happened, but when she was much younger, she lost a son to gang violence. As I recall, her son was no involved but he was an innocent victim. In her grief, Alicia tried to reach out to youth in gangs, but found that these youth may be too entrenched in the life. She needed to reach out to youth who weren’t involved yet.

Danny, Lori and I were all in elementary school when we started with the dance group and continued dancing for a few years. In those years we performed at the annual church carnival in the summer and for the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe. We performed at her son’s restaurant in San Juan Capistrano and were paid in delicious carne asada nachos. Those performances were always extra fun as it was a short road trip with my good friends in the group. She also set up shows for us at youth group homes and convalescent homes.

Ballet Folkórico days (circa 1993)

The performances at the restaurant were fun, but the most memorable time was when Alicia organized a trip to the Shrine Auditorium for a performance of the Ballet Folkórico de México de Amalia Hernández. I remember being starstruck as Doña Hernández left through the stage door.

Thank you Alicia for all you did for us. It’s been a long time since I’ve danced ballet folkórico, but the zapateado and lessons have always stayed with me. More importantly, thank you for showing the importance of being involved in your community and contributing in whatever way you can as a role model. You were the definition of that lady in the village who looked out for us kids.

Thank you to Angelita, the mom of two of the girls in the group, for sharing this picture with my dad.

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On Muerto Mouse, Coco and Haters

Sunday morning political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz joyfully announced via Facebook that he was working on the new Disney Pixar Day of the Dead-themed animated film, Coco.

ESPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: I have been sitting on this news, but it’s finally time to let you know that I am on the team creating the new Pixar Day of the Dead movie titled “Coco”. [link]

I responded “Firme,” which is Mexican slang that loosely translates to “cool.”

What I didn’t write was that I was kinda surprised and may have raised an eyebrow or two. I’ve been following Lalo’s art since the ’90s and when I met him him years ago at the Pocho Hour of Power event  I asked him to sign the calendar I bought and took a picture with him. I don’t want to say I’m a fangirl, but I’ve cut out and saved my share of La Cucaracha cartoons over the years.

Lalo’s political cartoons first made me laugh when I saw them in the LA Weekly. He critiqued mainstream Hollywood and racist/xenophobic practices alike.

While some people brought up Muerto Mouse, — more on that — I thought way earlier to Migra Mouse. From Migra Mouse: Political Cartoons on Immigration, a collection of Lalo’s political cartoons:

“Migra Mouse represents the corporate interest of the Walt Disney company, which donated money to then California Governor Pete Wilson’s re-election campaign. Wilson was exploiting the illegal immigration issue in the most divisive way, so I felt it was necessary to point out that wholesome Disney was affiliating itself with Wislon and Proposition 187, a xenophobic state ballot.”

A lot changes in 20 years… or even two years.

In May 2013, Disney made the epic blunder of trying to trademark “Día de los Muertos” in anticipation of the movie. Rightfully, this pissed off Chicanos and Latinos everywhere who were tired of seeing the appropriation of DDLM without respect for its roots. Lalo made Muerto Mouse, a mock poster for the movie, that was quite popular.

With this history, there were some people who were understandably scratching their heads. Like, what gives, man? Lalo explained himself when questioned. The patent attempts were dropped because of the pressure, Disney listened. Isn’t this what we want, greater representation and diversity in mainstream Hollywood? With him as part of the creative team he could to his best to ensure the culture was respected. And, I thought, he’s an artist who has the right to make the best decisions for his career and his family. I’d be a hypocrite if criticized Lalo for making a move to advance his career after just doing that myself by going from a public university of an elite private university. I can’t deny that compensation and career advancement were not part of my decision. Bills don’t pay themselves.

Later that day I saw this come up in my feed.

On Monday morning, Lalo posted this:

Something bothered me about Lalo and others’, namely Gustavo Arellano, response to the critics. It was the abject dismissal of the haters and tying it to an ethnic trait, even if jokingly. Being critical is hardly exclusive to Mexicans. Furthermore, it begs the question. If I share the same background as you, do I have to always approve or like the work you’re doing be it in politics or art? Do white people get accused of crab mentality if they say anything other than “Awesome! Congratulations!”? Perhaps “You are not expected to support culture produced by someone of same race” should be added to Peggy McIntosh’s invisible backpack of white privilege.

And were people really that critical? No!

I went back to Lalo’s initial announcement to see if there was a backlash I missed. The first thing I noticed was that the news got a ton of likes and shares. There’s no way to know if these are all positive, so my rudimentary research focused on the comments. Of 450 comments, most were congratulatory. In fact, since I like making charts and playing with Excel, I looked up some common words to see their frequency.

There are 323 total mentions of the words I searched; some of these were surely mentioned by the same commenter (“Congratulations! This is awesome news! Good luck!!!!”). I also searched for Muerto Mouse (<10 mentions; some by Lalo himself) and Migra Mouse (1 mention). The comment that garnered Lalo’s “so it begins screenshot” wasn’t representative by any means. And no one called him a tío Taco (sell out or Uncle Tom) except one lady. When he posted about his critics or haters, the vast majority of people responding to the critics sided with Lalo and lauded him with more praise. I doubt he deleted comments.

I favor constructive criticism and debate. In a medium like social media, everyone can share their opinion. Chicanos and Latinos do not, nor should they, all agree that Day of the Dead traditions need to be shared in mainstream entertainment. We are not a monolith. I have mixed feelings on DDLM going mainstream but have also purchased sugar skull patterned bags, clothing at the mall and stamps at the craft store. I’ve enjoyed Lalo’s art for many years and hope his humor will come through in inside jokes or Easter Eggs as is common with Pixar films. As for Disney/Pixar, I usually love Pixar movies and grew up watching lots of Disney movies in the ’90s. Toy Story is one of my favorites and the Lee Unkrich/Darla Anderson producer/director team made me cry last time I watched one of their animated movies, Toy Story 3. I go to Disneyland occasionally, wear Minnie Mouse ears, and sing Disney songs to my son. I like that Coco, which features a little boy named Miguel, may be one of his first moviegoing experiences.

What I’m not down with is exaggeration and blanket statements, but I’ll do one of my own. Maybe Jerezanos* like Lalo and Gustavo just attract more hate than others. And if that’s the case, then I’m wondering when I’ll get a share of that hate.

[*Jerezanos are people from Jerez a city in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. Lalo, Gustavo and I all have roots there.]

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Confirmation Sunday

Desert retreat

Written March 23, 2015

On my way home from work today I trudged along the sidewalk. I looked down at my feet. I felt a little queasy from the bus ride and was only half paying attention to the podcast playing on my phone. I heard someone call, “Cindy!”

I looked up at the line of cars waiting for the light to change to see Andi*, one of the students I got to know during the retreat in the desert. She was sitting in the back seat of a car driven by a woman with pink hair. She waved and I waved back. Then she was gone.

And I was left with warm fuzzies at the not-so-random encounter — figures that the students who go to the church live in the nearby community — and memories from the weekend.

***

Spanish language children's choir at St John Vianney

I grew up in a Catholic family. My parents met as part of the youth group at Assumption Church in Boyle Heights. When they moved to Hacienda Heights and began attending St. John Vianney (SJV), they continued to be involved in the church. I’ve written before about how every one of the six members of my family was involved in one way or another.

Then I went off to college and through my 20s/early 30s I stopped being so involved. I barely went to Mass. That changed when Sean and I got engaged and began to prepare for the sacrament of marriage. After SJV was burned down by an arsonist I reflected on how important being part of that community was for me growing up.

With our celebrant, Fr. Ricky

Then we met with Fr. Ricky and he reaffirmed that we needed to attend Mass weekly as we prepared for the wedding. After trying out different churches in my area, we chose St. Augustine. I liked that they had a 5 pm service. The music was great and the pastor encouraged interaction in Mass. But it didn’t really feel like home in the way SJV did. At SJV I can go to any service and bump in to a number of people I’ve known for 15-20 years.

Shortly after we got married the church sponsored an activities fair and encouraged parishioners to get involved. I signed up to do lector training and confirmation. I heard from the latter and then proceeded to flake on the actual training. I forgot I signed up for the former until summer when I got an email from the pastor.

I answered the call and went to a preliminary meeting. As I introduced myself I shared that I was a new parishioner and had been involved in youth ministry when I was younger. I added that I was influenced by my parents’ example. As I prepared to become a parent, I wanted to show my son that I wasn’t just going to church on Sunday, but also contributing in other ways.

Being a confirmation catechist shouldn’t be so tough, right? After all, I work with students just a few years older.

***

I met my group in September of 2013 as I was coming up from the fog of life with a newborn. The first class I attended was also the first time I was away from Xavi for more than 45 minutes. For the next nine months, I’d see my group about twice a month. I got to know them a little and did my best to be a good teacher. 

Being a catechist wasn’t easy. I had to give up some of my time with my family and deal with teens who oftentimes didn’t want to be in class or church. Sometimes it was impossible to get them to join the discussion or do an activity.

I got to know the other catechists, a mix of people fresh out of college, professionals, and couples tag-teaming on their catechist responsibilities. One couple was a pair of doctors with two children, one a toddler. If they could give their time, surely I could to. The other catechists became friends and the director of religious education (a former daycare provider) was great with Xavi when I brought him with me to meetings.

After a summer away, I came back in September to most of the same students. While most are sophomores, a few were applying to colleges and worried about the next phase in their lives. The catechist group changed slightly too, but there was still a core group. As part of the two-year process, the students attend a weekend retreat. I did this as a teen but don’t remember much from my experience except that it was intense.

Desert retreat

Like some of my teens, I didn’t really want to go away for a weekend. It would be the first time I’d be a way from Xavi overnight. When I decided to go on the second retreat weekend, I did it because it would give me more time to ensure Xavi was sleeping through the night and (if not) Sean could also get him back to sleep.

Andi (not her name) was one of the four students assigned to my small group during the confirmation retreat. I got to know her and the three others in my group and also spent the meals sitting with my usual group. They saved me a seat.

When I returned home on Sunday afternoon I opened my mail bag and found some kind notes from my group.

I heard great things about the retreat from my students. It was good for me too as I got some time to think and pray about some things on my mind. I even opened up to the youth about some of these concerns.

***

My confirmation with Bishop Gabino Zavala

My students will be confirmed this afternoon. While I’ll miss seeing them every other Sunday for class, I’m excited to see how much they’ve grown and proud that they’re making this next step. Making my confirmation was a big deal for me and led to more opportunities for involvement at SJV. I hope my students see it the same way.

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Baby’s first racist encounter

In just four days Xavi will complete his first year of life. There will be tears (mine, no doubt) and clichés (where did the past 12 months go? Can you believe he’s one?), a (Hulk, naturally) smash cake and lots of family and friends. There will be reminiscing over a year full of firsts and reaching milestones. And we’ll look forward to ones we’ve yet to reach (without trying to rush the natural developmental process).

Most of those firsts have been pleasant, awesome even. They’re captured in pictures and text messages filled with lots of exclamation points. Occasionally there will be one without formal record. Just memories that will become the kind of story that ends with “so that happened.”

This is that kind of story.

Hanging out on campus

Normally, Sean, Xavi and I go to Sunday mass at 5 pm. It gives us time to lounge around in the morning and not interrupt Xavi’s late morning nap. During the academic year it coincided with the service for confirmation year 1 students. (I volunteered to be a catechist last summer.) Finally, I like the music played at that service. This Sunday I had to work from 4-6 so we opted for the latest morning service at 11.

We arrived at church and took our usual seats in the crying room, 3rd mini pew, second from the back. I’m new to crying rooms since I never sat in there as a kid. SJV didn’t have one, but this church does. We’ve been using the room for the past 6 months or so and have become familiar with the regulars. While it’s nice to attend mass and not worry about the baby getting too loud and fussy since the room is soundproof, it’s also worrisome for it provides a glimpse of the toddler years.

This Sunday the room was pretty sparse and we were joined by only two or three other families. The family in the pew in front of us consisted of three boys, Larry (~9), Moe (~7) and Curly (~6)*, their father and grandmother.

Shortly into the service, the children were invited to leave the sanctuary to attend a specialized kids service. Moe and Curly joined the group, but Larry didn’t want to go even when his dad and brothers encouraged him. While his brothers were gone, Xavi dropped one of his teething rings in the aisle by Larry. The boy kindly picked it up but seemed disgusted when he found it was wet with drool. Fair enough.

Halfway through the service the kids came back. The boys got out their toys. Xavi watched with curiosity and leaned forward trying to touch the toys. Rather than turn around and ignore Xavi, Moe and Curly showed Xavi their toys. Moe, the middle brother, even let him hold a Batcopter. Larry didn’t like that.

“No, don’t let him play with it. He’s a brown baby! We only like Jonathan.*”

Moe and Curly looked at Larry like “what’s wrong with you?” and ignored his plea. Larry whined to his dad, but he didn’t do anything.

Sean and I didn’t say anything, but for the rest of the service I tried to keep Xavi from touching the boys’ toys even when they offered because they weren’t baby appropriate and I didn’t want Larry scowling at us or his brothers. Xavi did get in a couple spins of the Batcopter propeller and Tumbler wheels. [Aside: Sean helped me with the proper terms.]

The mass ended and we walked out to the car.

“Did you hear what the boy said?”

“I think I did. What did you hear?”

Sean repeated what I thought I’d heard and confirmed that I didn’t hear wrong. He was sitting closer to Larry so he could hear better.

“That doesn’t even make sense. Those boys are the same color as Xavi! They’re probably Filipino too.”

“And who is Jonathan? We gotta warn that kid.”

“Well, I guess that’s another first. Baby’s first racist encounter.”

So that happened...

So, that happened…

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