Traveling Gear

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My Patricia Nash collection – all pulled together and ready for my trip overseas on Monday!

On Monday I’ll be taking a trip…an adventure…  Two weeks off of work.  I can’t remember the last time I did that for a vacation.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever taken that long off to take a vacation and actually go somewhere and completely disconnect.

My husband and I are traveling overseas…(more on where later)… so since this is a much longer trip.  I’ve been trying really hard to keep it simple and make sure that everything I take is compact and useful.

The main thing that I have been concerned with is how to take my camera and zoom lens.  I found a smaller camera backpack at Target a few weeks ago and it worked great when we traveled to Austin, Texas last weekend.  I like it because it’s not cumbersome and it’s just the right size for my camera and the zoom lens as well as a few accessories.

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I love maps…so how could I NOT love this over the shoulder purse with a map on it?! Perfect for travel!

I also needed something to carry my passport in….something small that also holds my driver’s license and a few credit cards and my immunization records.   I was shopping at Macy’s when I discovered Patricia Nash leather handbags.  What drew me to the wallet was actually a large satchel bag with a map on it.  I considered the satchel but decided instead on the wallet and a cross body bag – both with maps on them.  They worked well on our weekend trip to Austin.

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Patricia Nash Italian Leather handbags and accessories…discovered them at Macys and bought my handbag and passport wallet there. I bought my satchel through Amazon. Love this collection! So beautiful!

As I was preparing for the Austin trip though, I realized that I didn’t have a good satchel bag and so I went back to the Patricia Nash collection and chose a solid leather satchel.  I ordered it through Amazon and it arrived while I was in Austin.  It’s beautiful too… I slipped the cross body bag right into it along with my travel journal.  There is also plenty of space for my Nook and a few other things!  I think it’s going to be easy to travel with the satchel and the small camera backpack.  Really…I want to keep the “stuff” I carry to a minimum!

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Finally…I was in Macy’s the other day when I walked up on a jewelry display.  Mind you, I don’t typically look at pre-packaged items but for some reason I did that day.  The sterling silver jewelry was deeply discounted that particular day and I became fixated on a necklace.  It’s a layered necklace – the smaller piece is a gold circle with the cardinal points – north, east, south and west.  The larger piece has a saying “life is a journey, enjoy the ride.”

This is my first trip out of the country in a long time so this spoke to me, I guess you could say.  I also don’t believe in accidents…finding this necklace was predestined.  It will be one of the only jewelry items I wear on my trip – again, trying to keep it simple.

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My new “travel” necklace…I really love the cardinal point part of the necklace.

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharial Nehru

 

We Are Better Than This…

IMG_7628I had dinner with some great friends this week…we started talking about all the negativity in the world these days…in particular with politics.  We all vowed to keep things as positive as possible in anything that we post on social media and in the way we conduct our lives.  It made me think of another time in recent years when things got pretty nasty but friends and neighbors pulled together to show unity and hope.  This is a post from a blog I had back in 2011 about events surrounding the anti-immigrant bill (HB56) that was signed into law by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.  This event that I attended and documented showed that not everyone in the state agreed that this law was a good thing…

June 28,2011…

This past weekend I attended, along with my husband and daughter, a candlelight interfaith vigil to protest an anti-immigrant bill that was signed into law by the governor of my state.  This misguided law goes into effect Sept 1st and if you believe the comments on media stories you would think we were back in the 60s and that everyone in the state was anti-immigrant.

The day the governor signed the bill, with the state representatives who sponsored it smiling broadly next to him, I felt sick to my stomach.  Comments ranged from “this will send them all back where they belong” to “this will create jobs for more Alabamians.”  The pure mean-spirited nature of the comments and personal attacks were hard to read at times.  It is being called the toughest illegal immigration bill in the US, modeled after the Arizona law but supposed to be foolproof when it hits the courts.  Again…people smiling broadly like this is something to be proud of in a state where race relations and violations of civil rights are well-known.  People across the US once again are looking at Alabama as the epicenter of discrimination – only this time it is against our “brown” brothers and sisters.  Haters spouting that we are a nation of laws and they must be enforced…quick to forget that just 50 to 60 short years ago segregation was the law of the land and it was clearly unjust.  It seems incredible to look back at such a short time ago and think people thought that was okay.  I’m sure people asked themselves then…WHO are we that we would think this is right…clearly we are better than this.  And many set out to change things…and were successful.

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St. Peter Apostle Catholic Church leads the marchers out of Linn Park.

 

Clearly we are better than this once again. People can’t truly believe this law is just.  If you lived in Alabama in the 60s – like my husband did – you must have the perspective that this is wrong.  Do we really want to go through all that again?

Well the march on Saturday evening set out to prove we have learned something from our history and we ARE better than this.  The march was organized by the faith community…and churches of all denominations were present and denounced this law as morally wrong.  Organizers expected about a thousand people but clearly word got out and people – feeling like they had to do “something” – showed up in bigger numbers.  I think the final estimate was about 2,500 attendees.

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Benedictine nuns…some from out of state…joined in the march.

 

And what a sight it was to see…marchers were asked to wear white shirts and bring a candle.  Churches were asked to bring their banners but other signs were discouraged.  Families came out in full force…it brought tears to my eyes to see the little children – so sweet and innocent….leading the marchers, holding candles and riding on the shoulders of their dads…

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Many families joined in the march…children rode on the shoulders of their fathers. This sweet little girl stayed on her father’s shoulders during the entire march.

 

The crowd was diverse too with about half being Hispanic but the other half was quite a mix.  I’m sure there were many documents AND undocumented who would have liked to have been there but were afraid and I can’t blame them.  The police were present but they were there to make sure the marchers were safe and the Spanish language radio stations tried to get that word out.  Still…fear is real right now…you could see it in some of the marchers eyes and you could hear it in the stories being told to one another throughout the evening.

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Marchers re-enter Linn Park after walking peacefully through the streets of Birmingham.

Afterwards my husband, daughter and I went to dinner with my friend Isabel Rubio and her husband Freddy.  Isabel is the Executive Director of HICA – Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, an organization that I’ve been a part of for about 8 years.   We talked about the march and the law and how it will be challenged.  Isabel mentioned how the one thing missing in her mind is that during the 60’s the marchers had songs to sing.  She said “we don’t have a song.  We need a song.”

She’s right…music unifies and in this case we do need something – a song, a slogan…something that people can grab on to and pull us together.  Maybe others are thinking the same thing and just maybe this will be something organic that grows from further marches and protests to this dreadful law.

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A precious little boy works to keep his candle lit during the march…

We ARE better than this…I think we proved that Saturday night at Linn Park and through the streets of Birmingham.

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Finding a Travel Journal

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In love with my new travel journal! Isn’t it cool!

For as long as I can remember, I have always been drawn to notebooks and journals.  When I go into a bookstore or any specialty store, I always find myself in the aisle with the journals and notebooks, thumbing through the various designs and thinking of ways I can use each particular one.  Then I shake myself out of that dreamy state and realize I have more than enough journals and notebooks at home and I need to use those first!

What I didn’t have was a good travel journal…at least until now!  My husband and I are taking a 30th anniversary trip in August and I wanted something special to take with me and record our trip.  Sure, I could have used something I already have but I was browsing in that aisle again – in Target this time – and I landed on the perfect one.

IMG_7373It’s funny how journaling and decorating journals has become such a big industry these days.  The options are endless!  Back in the early 1980’s, I would eagerly await the new Hallmark calendar and get it ready for the year – adding birthdays, appointments and other special events.  Then I would use the daily page to journal about my day and feelings, and then add things like ticket stubs, photos, receipts, invitations and other items that I wanted to remember.  By the end of the year, the calendar would be 3 times its original size from all the things I was saving!  The book pictured on the left is the one I diligently kept the year before I got married so when I found it in the attic recently and opened it up – so many memories flooded back to me.  Reading a few pages immediately took me back to that particular time and how I was feeling.  It’s amazing the power of your own voice…

Finding these old journals has made me all the more excited about keeping a travel journal.  I have to say, the cover of the journal got my attention first.  It’s full of passport type stamps.  It’s also made of a burlap type fabric.  As I opened it, I noticed there were stickers to use and pockets to store things.  Another cool feature is that it contains several pull out pages that show the map of the world.  I can definitely see myself marking that map with some of the stickers included as I check places to go off my bucket list.  There is also space for photos which is always a hard one for me since I take so many!  I generally like to pick out a few postcards when we travel and tuck those away “with” my photos.

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One of the fold out maps in my new travel journal!

In addition to the journal, I found the coolest pack of sticky notes at World Market a few weeks ago.  I actually bought this before I found the travel journal but they go together perfectly!  They’re called Bon Voyage sticky notes and you know why they got my attention, right?  The map of the world on the cover, of course!  The love of maps seems to be a Zuniga gene thing – at least that’s what my sister Kanista seems to think.  I think she may be right!

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Travel sticky notes from World Market – nice companion piece for my travel journal.

As far as journaling and photographing our trip…I’m ready for that!  When it comes to packing clothes…not so much…but I still have some time to get that underway.

NOTE:  I’ll post about the trip in September so stay tuned!

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Prince and Sheila E

Purple Rain album cover - released in 1984

Purple Rain album cover – released in 1984

Around noon today I took some Tylenol sinus meds, grabbed a mug of hot tea and settled into my recliner with my pup, Lucy. I grabbed my laptop to check a few emails and wait for the meds to kick in when I saw the first post about Prince.  A friend had shared a story that Prince was dead at age 57.  The news was stunning and not quite believable.  Could it be an internet hoax?

With the way social media spreads – wildfire comes to mind – I decided to wait to see if Associated Press and other news sources confirmed the news. A number of times I’ve seen friends post RIPs for actors or celebrities who have already passed on thinking it was recent.  But soon there were more posts and finally confirmation with the report coming from Prince’s publicist.  It was true…Prince was gone.

Prince was my soundtrack in the 1980s with the release of his album “1999.” I mean, who didn’t want to party “like it’s 1999?” His album was released in 1982 so we had plenty of time to plan!  Then he released Purple Rain followed by his movie of the same name.  So much great music and still more to come in his incredible career.

Prince and Sheila E perform at The Alma awards in Pasadena, CA - June 2007 - AP Photo

Prince and Sheila E perform at The Alma awards in Pasadena, CA – June 2007 – AP Photo

I think what I loved the most about Prince is the many collaborations he made throughout his career. All the artist he worked with and who made a name for themselves because of his help.  One artist that is high on my list is Sheila E.

Sheila E is the daughter of Pete Escovedo, a Mexican-American musician percussionist who has performed with Santana. Sheila is from a family of musicians so I guess it isn’t surprising she chose this path too.  It seemed predestined for her in fact.  Her relationship with Prince began in 1978 when they met at a concert where she was performing with her father.  She and Prince began their collaboration during the Purple Rain years (1984) and her vocals can be heard on several of his releases like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Erotic City.”  Her own first hit was “The Glamorous Life” which was a chart topper in 1984.  She opened for Prince during his Purple Rain tour and was with him through 1989 as his drummer and musical director.  Since this time, when I think of Sheila E, I always think of Prince and hoped to one day meet them both.

Sheila E. ends at the end of the concert she gave for the NCLR conference in Chicago - 2009.

Sheila E. ends at the end of the concert she gave for the NCLR conference in Chicago – 2009.

Fast forward to 2009 and I got my wish – part of it. .  In 2009, I attended the National Council of La Raza conference in Chicago.  NCLR is known for drawing great speakers and performers.  One evening is always devoted to music and this particular time the artist featured was Sheila E!  I was so excited as our group headed over to The House of Blues to hear her perform.  I was able to get very close to the stage with my camera and started clicking away.  Yes, I DID stop to get in a dance or two!  Sheila wore a red form-fitting dress, her black hair was long and wavy and she had a white floral percussion set.  I was mesmerized by her.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be so close to this incredible artist…someone who was guided by Prince and worked so closely with him.  It was such a thrill….and then this happened…

Photo opp with Sheila E in our hotel lobby in Chicago after her House of Blues performance.  What a treat!  My friend Isabel Rubio and I were thrilled to meet her!

Photo opp with Sheila E in our hotel lobby in Chicago after her House of Blues performance. What a treat! My friend Isabel Rubio and I were thrilled to meet her!

Back at our hotel, a group of us gathered at the bar in the lobby to enjoy a few drinks after the concert. We were a lively group – well, we ARE Latinos – and then suddenly Sheila E walked in!!!  Everyone got even louder and excited as she walked toward us and was sweet enough to pose for pictures!  I still had my camera with me (when don’t I have my camera with me?!) so I became the official photographer for our lucky encounter.  Thankfully, someone offered to take a few pictures of me with Sheila and my good friend Isabel Rubio.  What a night!  Unforgettable!

I’ve wanted to tell the story about meeting Sheila E for some time now. Today seemed like the right time to share it with Prince’s sudden passing.  We lost a musical giant today, but his influence lives on in the many people who love his music, the artists he mentored and the many who were fortunate enough to collaborate with him.

“There are no accidents. And if there are, it’s up to us to look at them as something else.  And that bravery is what creates new flowers.”  RIP Prince.

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A Little Turkish Culture

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The “official” flyer for the Turkish Food Fest. This is the 3rd year for the event.

Three years ago I found out about the Istanbul Cultural Center in Hoover.  I was participating in the FBI Citizens Academy that fall and I met fellow classmate, Umut Gunebir, Executive Director of the Center. The following year, Umut invited me to visit the center to learn more about Turkish culture and events they conduct there.    So, of course, I liked their Facebook page so I could stay current with the center’s activities.

Last year, I heard the Turkish Food Festival was being planned and I was really looking forward to attending.  Unfortunately, the date turned out to be the same as my daughter’s wedding so THAT didn’t happen!  This year, no wedding, so I got an early start and headed over to the Center at 10:45 a.m. to check things out.

The crowds gathered early for the festival!

The crowds gathered early for the festival!

There was already quite a crowd when I arrived.  The smell of food was permeating the area and I was pretty hungry since I had skipped breakfast.  Turkish music was playing over loud speakers.  I wasn’t sure if I should go ahead and get food tickets right then or make my way around to see everything and take photos.  I chose the latter and landed at the vendor tables and started clicking away.  All the pretty hand painted bowls  pulled me in and every single one was unique!  Achmed, the vendor did not speak much English so the young lady at the next booth did some interpreting for us.  I had all kinds of questions about the ceramics and he was pleased to share details about how the pieces were created and how time-consuming the process was for the artists – from kiln to painting to kiln again.  I told him I would be back before I left to buy some of the items and he smiled and said he would give me a “good deal.”

Some of the beautiful hand painted Turkish ceramics.

Some of the beautiful hand painted Turkish ceramics.

Next I walked around checking out all the food.  It was a food festival after all!  Each table had signs describing the food being sold which was a nice touch.  The first food items included things like yaprak sarmasi (stuffed grape leaves) and kisir (Turkish tabooli).  Next came the big-ticket items  – gyros and kabobs – served in pita bread with lettuce and tomatoes on top of rice.  Along the last line of booths you could find Turkish coffee or tea to go with some scrumptious dessert items.  Things like baklava, cezerye – a carrot and coconut delicacy, elmali kurabiye (apple cookie rolls with powdered sugar), rice pudding and Turkish cinnamon cookies.  I think they need to create a sampler platter for next year!

Turkish cinnamon cookie and cezerye (with the flag pick).

Turkish cinnamon cookie and cezerye (with the flag pick).

One of the longest lines for food was at the gozleme (Turkish flatbread and pastry) table.  A young man and his mother were hard at work making this tasty and traditional dish.  When I read there was feta in it, that’s all I had to hear!  Like a woman said behind me…”they had me at feta!”  I had to agree!  (Here is a recipe I found online for gozleme.)

One of the longest lines was for the gozleme - a traditional Turkish flatbread and pastry made with feta cheese. Yum!

One of the longest lines was for the gozleme – a traditional Turkish flatbread and pastry made with feta cheese. Yum!

As I waited for my gozleme to finish cooking on gas-fired sac griddle, I told the young man that his mother was the hardest working person at the festival.  He translated for me and she gave me a smile.  From the time I arrived, she was rolling the dough with the “oklava” – a very long and thin wooden rolling-pin.  As she finished rolling out each dough piece, she would hand it off to her son who would paint it with butter and add a feta and Turkish white cheese mixture before sealing it to cook.  I found out that the son was attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and majoring in Physics.  His mother had just arrived in the US and was staying with him for several months which clearly made him happy.  I loved how seamlessly they worked together making the gozleme.  It was well worth the wait and my last 3 food tickets.  Plus, I really enjoyed the conversation.

One of the beautiful henna tattoos I saw at the festival.

One of the beautiful henna tattoos I saw at the festival.

Activities for kids included inflatables and face painting and plenty of kids took advantage of this.  I was very interested in the henna tattoos.  I didn’t have time to get one myself but I was able to photograph a few people who did.  I asked the young woman who was in charge of the henna tattoos what purpose they served and she explained they are a way to adorn the body for special celebrations, just like wearing jewelry.  She had several designs to choose from at her table.  On my list of things to do one day – get a henna tattoo!  They are so beautiful!

By the time I left two hours later, the festival was packed!  The lines were long every where you looked and it pleased me to see this for the organizers.  A young man by the name of Huseyin saw me taking photographs shortly after I arrived and introduced himself saying he was the Social Media Director for the festival.  He asked how I found out about the event and I told him through Facebook.  The festival continued on Sunday and from the pictures people were posting, it was another packed house!  Huseyin mentioned they may be looking for a bigger venue next year because of the growth they are experiencing.  Food and cultural festivals definitely bring in a crowd!

Crowds of people enjoy delicious Turkish food at the 3rd annual Turkish Food Fest!

Crowds of people enjoy delicious Turkish food at the 3rd annual Turkish Food Fest!

Oh…and as I promised Achmed, I returned to his vendor booth and bought several of the Turkish ceramic bowls.  And as he promised me…he gave me a good deal!

Here are a few more photos from the event…

 

Cuban Sandwich from Kool Korners Sandwich shop in Vestavia.

Feel Like Getting a Cuban Sandwich?

Cuban Sandwich from Kool Korners Sandwich shop in Vestavia.

Cuban Sandwich from Kool Korners Sandwich shop in Vestavia.

It was 11:15 a.m. and I was sitting at my desk thinking about lunch.  Actually…I was sitting at my desk thinking about Cuban Sandwiches since it was the day after Kool Korners reopened in Vestavia!!!

I’ve been waiting for many months for this to happen – 9 to be exact!  This cute little sandwich shop used to be in the Vestavia Hills City Center but closed in June 2015 after 6 years because the owners Bill and Ildefonso Ramirez, could not agree on a new lease with the shopping center’s owners.  They assured all their regular customers that they were looking for a new location in Vestavia and would be back soon.  Well, the wait is over!  On March 21st, Kool Korners reopened in Vestavia.  This time in the Vestridge Commons retail center on US 31.

The senior Ramirez is 93 years old and immigrated from Cuba in the early 1970s with his wife, Lucia, and young son Bill.  They fled the Castro regime in Cuba where Sr. Ramirez was a very successful chemist.  He and his family first landed in Spain for several years and then arrived in Miami.  Eventually they moved to Atlanta so their son could attend college on a scholarship.  In Atlanta, Sr. and Sra. Ramirez opened a grocery store where they began selling Cuban sandwiches.  Unfortunately, the store burned down but soon after Sr. Ramirez opened Kool Korners in Midtown Atlanta.   He ran his business there for 25 years and received many accolades and quite a fan base for his food.  When the building that housed Kool Korners was sold in 2008, Sr. Ramirez moved to Alabama to be closer to his son, Bill.  On a side note,  I remember Bill Ramirez back in the day when our sons played soccer together in the Hoover Soccer Club.  Bill was always the voice on our answering machine when the Club would have messages for the players and parents!  Small world, huh?!

Kool Korners opened in Alabama in 2009 and Cuban sandwiches were introduced to a whole new fan base in Alabama!  I remember taking my mother there for lunch once and Sr. Ramirez came by to check on us and we started speaking in Spanish – of course, this was after my mother said – “my daughter speaks Spanish!”  He is such a sweet man and so interested in his customers and their enjoyment of his food!  You could tell he loves his work!

We got a front door parking spot at Kool Korners on the 2nd day of the shop reopening in Vestavia!

We got a front door parking spot at Kool Korners on the 2nd day of the shop reopening in Vestavia!

So, on Tuesday, March 22nd, I sent a text to my hubby saying, “Feel like getting a Cuban sandwich?”  He said “Sure!  Where?” We headed over to Vestavia and luckily found a parking space right in front!  The place was packed already and as we looked around, there were no seats available.  We got in line to order and hoped for the best!  Eddie and I both ordered the Cuban sandwich combo which includes a drink and chips of your choice.  I really, REALLY wanted a Guava and Cream Cheese Pastelito, but they were out of them…and this was at11:45 a.m.!!!  I’ll have to save that for another time.  I just love guava!  I could probably write an entire post about guava.  (jot that down, Teresa….)  Let me just say for the record too…those Cuban sandwiches did NOT disappoint!!!

I'm surprised I even got a picture of the sandwich after taking a bite...it was hard not to inhale this deliciousness!

I’m surprised I even got a picture of the sandwich after taking a bite…it was hard not to inhale this deliciousness!

Some people may wonder what all the fuss is about with Cuban sandwiches.  After all, it’s just pork, ham, swiss cheese, mayo, mustard and dill picked on bread, right?  Well…..not quite.  It’s Cuban style roasted pork and the Cuban bread that make these sandwiches so tasty.  Cuban bread is similar to French bread but during baking includes a small amount of lard or vegetable shortening.   There are also any number of ways you can season the pork roast and I found and bookmarked numerous excellent recipes all over the Food Network on how to do this.  Once all the ingredients are assembled and layered on the bread, you press the sandwich down for about 5 minutes on each side with a bacon press or even a heavy cast-iron pan.  If you have a sandwich press, that works too!  The finishing touch is to slice it diagonally.

I wanted a chance to see Sr. Ramirez when Eddie and I went by that day but the place was so packed that I decided to wait until another time.  Right as we were leaving, I spotted him coming out of the back kitchen area and greeting a few people waiting for “to-go” orders.  I hope I get the chance to speak to him next time I’m in Kool Korners.  I’ve been looking over their menu and  I’m hungry again!  The photo of the empanadas on their website already has my stomach growling!  YUM!

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The counter and menu at Kool Korners. I was hoping to get a glimpse of Sr. Ramirez when I ordered. The place was so crowded that I figured he was a little busy back in the kitchen!

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Lots of interesting art on the walls at Kool Korners. Eddie and I sat under this painting of an old Chevrolet in Havana as we enjoyed our lunch.

 

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I had to post a photo of my handsome lunch date as he patiently awaited our delicious sandwiches!

Speaking Spanish and Being Latino

Nuestra Cultura (Our Culture) Town Hall at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) in January featured a discussion on being Latino and speaking Spanish.

Nuestra Cultura (Our Culture) Town Hall at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) in January featured a discussion on being Latino and speaking Spanish.

At the January Town Hall I attended at The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute called “Nuestra Cultura” (Our Culture), the topic of language in the Latino community was discussed.  Does not being able to speak Spanish make you any less Latino/Hispanic?  I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic since then and wanting to write about it.  My own experience learning Spanish kept coming back to me as I listened to several members of the Town Hall audience share their stories and opinions.  Meanwhile, so many instances of Spanish language and what it means to the community have popped up in new articles and on social media.  The Pew Research Center published some research on this and breaking it down many different ways.  Overall, 71% of Latino adults say it is NOT necessary to speak Spanish to be considered Latino.  Even Republican Presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Tex Cruz sparred a bit recently about speaking Spanish at a Republican debate in South Carolina!

Graphic from the Pew Research Center - taken from the Pew Research website.

Graphic from the Pew Research Center – taken from the Pew Research website.

When I was 6 years old, my family moved from Beltsville, Maryland to Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.  I remember vividly walking into my first grad classroom at Cupeyville Elementary and not speaking a word of Spanish.  My teacher spoke English and helped me maneuver getting set up in the classroom but I don’t remember anyone else speaking to me in English.  It was frightening not being able to understand what was going on those first few weeks.  I soon learned on the playground that my classmates were rather curious about the new “American” kid in the classroom.  I was considered the American kid – because I only spoke English – even though my father was Mexican-American.  Many of the kids were very kind to me and we got along using the universal language of playground games – jump rope and others – during recess.  Meanwhile, I was like a sponge soaking up my classes in Spanish and learning to speak the language that I knew was my father’s first but I rarely heard him speak until we made the move to Puerto Rico.

Some of my Spanish books from 7th grade at Sagrado Corazon school.

Some of my Spanish books from 7th grade at Sagrado Corazon school.

By 4th grade, my parents moved me and my sisters to a Catholic school so we would be exposed to a religious education.  All subjects were taught in Spanish except for Religion and English.  Those two were taught by the Benedictine nuns at Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart) school.  I was immersed in Spanish from the ages 6 to 12 and when we moved to Chicago, Illinois midway through my 7th grade year, I continued taking Spanish as an elective all through high school.  Friends in high school would say it was an easy “A” for me every time they would see Spanish on my schedule.  But I begged to differ.  Once, after this statement was made to me I asked my friend, “don’t you take an English class?”  She said, “yes, you know I do…I sit right next to you!”  I grinned and asked her “do you get all A’s?”  To which she replied…”good one…”

Having a second language has been a great benefit all my life.  When I was a senior in high school, I took a school sponsored trip with a few classmates to Mexico.  My friends relied heavily on me during that trip.  One day we were looking for a market and two friends found a policeman and started asking him for directions.  They were supposed to be practicing their Spanish but were struggling so they pulled me up and I began asking for help and directions.  When I had finished he answered me in perfect English!  It was rather amusing – my friends asked him, “why didn’t you tell us you spoke English?”  He said, “you didn’t ask?”

Some of the photos from my senior high school trip to Mexico - top left is me on top of the Sun Pyramid. Bottom pic is of some of our group on the tour bus - we got rained out at the pyramid sound and light show that night!

Some of the photos from my senior high school trip to Mexico – top left is me on top of the Sun Pyramid. Bottom pic is of some of our group on the tour bus – we got rained out at the pyramid sound and light show that night!

Living in the suburbs of Chicago, there were times I would be called upon to help interpret or translate Spanish.  It didn’t happen very often, but it was great fun when it did happen confirming further how fortunate I was to be bilingual.  I know my father was happy me and my sisters were getting exposure to Spanish.  He was always such a proponent of language and was self-taught in several.  He was equally happy that we were able to speak to our grandmother – nana – in  Spanish when we would call her in New Mexico.  If I ever started speaking English to her, she would simply say “en español” – meaning “in Spanish,” so I would respect this request and return to speaking Spanish.

When I moved to Birmingham, Alabama in 1980, I encountered no Spanish speakers…for a long time.  I would look for ways to hear Spanish and with cable television – again this was the mid-1980s – I was able to get the WGN Chicago station and a Saturday morning show called “Charlando.”  This was a long-running Spanish-language community affairs “chat” and the guy who hosted the show spoke SO fast that it was a challenge to understand him at times.  My father even said to me one Saturday, “if you can understand what he is saying, then you are doing quite well.!”  That made me feel good!  Of course, in the late 1990s through early 2000s, the Hispanic population in the Birmingham region grew tremendously and it was not unusual to go to the local mall and hear Spanish being spoken.  It was like music to my ears and always made me smile as I eavesdropped just a little.

Now after almost 15 years of involvement with the Hispanic community in Birmingham, Most of my Latino friends know I speak Spanish but there are some who are still surprised when I do.  I was at a Hispanic event last fall when I joined a group of friends in Spanish conversation.  On the way to my car later, one of the women said to me in Spanish – “Teresa, I had no idea you could speak Spanish like that!”  I said, “Yes, I’m just full of surprises!”  I do look for opportunities to speak Spanish.  You would think it would be easy these days but English always seems to override.

Looking back, I’ve had varied experiences being bilingual.  Some would say that I’m not bilingual “enough,” while others say I speak just fine.  It all depends on who you are, I suppose.  And all this goes back to the original question I posed…does a Latino need to speak  Spanish to be considered Latino?  I identify as Latina and have done so for a long time.  So, how much Spanish is enough?  I will explore this multi-layered subject more in future posts.

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