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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A “Mestiza” Holiday Celebration

by Silvia Uribe

Being from Spanish descent, but born and raised in Mexico, I got the best of both worlds. On Christmas and New Year Eves we usually had a parade of Spanish and Mexican dishes. I could describe it as a "mestiza" season, if you know what I mean. My parents used to invite my aunts and uncles or "t’os" (my parents' close friends were considered my t’os as well) and their children, my "primos", between ten to twenty altogether. Everybody would sit in the living and dining areas, (in Latin America, when someone comes to one's home, he or she is immediately offered a seat; stand up gatherings are not common) forming quite animated chatting groups.

[The word "loud" does not properly describe our gatherings to their full extent. Everyone talking at the same time (the American rule of not interrupting, seems either unknown or irrelevant to my family), we use our hands to emphasize our words, and every now and then we role play whatever we're describing. The two cultures put together are quite a boisterous combination. However, the most outstanding characteristic, which I love, is that my family never refrains from laughing out loud, and at once. Whenever we gather at a public place, such as a restaurant, people would find us by following the outbursts of laughter, just as you would follow the hints to the end of a scavenger's hunt.]

On my Spanish traditional Christmas Eve, as we talked and laughed, finger food (asparagus dipped in a "secret" dip recipe, "jam—n serrano" (prosciutto), and cashews among other things) and chilled apple cider made their rounds. We had to watch ourselves in order to avoid reaching out as many times as we wanted, since the enticing smells of a full dinner were promising. Growing up, dinner meant 5 different homemade dishes, each served on its own plate (boy, am I glad I've simplified things!): a salad, a cream of "something", bacalao (cod fish), turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes, and "flan" with golden brown caramel dripping from all its sides. After dinner, adults stayed at the table drinking coffee, and cognac, and talking politics, while children were taken to the bedrooms to sleep. Before leaving, every family would take their child with them, and some food to go.

One of my fondest memories is getting up the next morning to go find what "El Ni–o Dios" (baby Jesus) had left for us under the tree. Since it was pitch dark and I didn't know the time, I was always afraid that I would scare him away, interrupting the year long awaited delivery of presents. (Thank God he was always prompt, and my early bird bare little foot steps never crossed with his!)

As for my Mexican traditional Christmas day, one of my aunts on my mom's side of the family would have us for the "recalentado" (leftovers.) It was always a happy day. I got to eat "romeritos" with "mole" and tamales, yum! I got to see my other "primos" and we all got to play, and brag a little about the presents we got. Interestingly enough, neither one of my families exchanged presents, and my friends' families didn't either. I guess the gift buying frenzy was not the focus of Christmas in my childhood days (I kept the "present-less" tradition in my own family until my children started feeling depraved of the exchange fun, a few years after we came to live in Santa Barabara.)

The New Year was almost an "instant repetition" of Christmas Eve, except for the midnight bells and the grapes. We had dinner at home at 10 p.m. just in time to finish before 12 midnight. With each bell stroke, we ate one grape at a time. It was (and still is) a challenge to stuff more grapes in our mouths after the fifth one, but we had to keep going, no matter the giggling, the inflated cheeks, or the dripping through the corners of our mouths, otherwise our wishes for the New Year would not come true, they said. Once we managed to choke the grapes down, we raised our glasses and wished the best to everyone. The hugs and the games followed (throwing rice over our head for abundance, coming in and out of the house with suitcases to ensure copious traveling during the year, and using a broom to sweep the bad luck out the door) the music, the laughter and some tears here and there. We were determined to follow through on our resolutions, but the determination only lasted a couple of weeks. I guess things have not changed much in this regard! This was almost the end of the parties, except for Epiphany or "La Rosca de Reyes" on Jan 5th (which I will explain in due time.)

Many of us have similar memories in our hearts about celebrations and other life experiences. Here's a toast for the things we have in common, and may we use them to promote peace, and understanding in 2008.

Happy Holidays, and a great New Year to you!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Saturday, December 8, 2007

This Latina Wonders…

By Silvia Uribe.

As I was channel surfing in an impossible task of finding something interesting on TV, I saw an advertisement for the upcoming show “Celebrity Rehab”, in which we will all have the dubious pleasure of watching some “famous” people (although I’m not sure who all of them are) going through the pain and suffering of getting rid of their addictions. I also learned that some of them, not having the strength to refrain themselves from being doped, will be using “on the air”. Of course, the show will air during prime time.

I WANT TO PUKE! The simple idea seems to me not only depressing, but also immoral. I wonder what kind of society have we become that we allow the media to not only show this kind of human misery to our kids, but also to profit from it?

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I can’t stop wondering about the wall that is being built on our southern border. “Protective” walls are actually not a new idea. The idea has been put into practice a few times in the past. The oldest and most famous being, the wall of China built in 221 B.C. This magnificent wall (with over 4,000 miles) protected the newly formed empire from their enemies. If we think about it, we’ll see that it also isolated China from progress, at a huge cost to its people. More recently, the Berlin Wall (96 miles) was built in 1961 and it caused the same isolation and lack of progress, for that matter. Walls have been, slowly but surely, either physically or symbolically torn down.
Today, countries are coming together. Political, commercial, and financial ties are being promoted all over the world. Many believe that globalization is well on its way. Building a wall now seems not only a decrepit measure, but also a perilous one, considering past results. I wonder… the U.S. didn’t get the memo?
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It is hard to understand why, at this point in time, democrats are seriously thinking about Barrack Obama as a potential presidential candidate. Today our internal affairs are less than stable, and as soon as Bush leaves office, our country will have to face major problems such as financial (billions of dollars in debt), political (due to the present administration’s mistakes, cover-ups, and concessions), and social (immigration, health care, social security, just to name a few). Our nation’s international relations with several countries are tense, to say the least (especially with the Arab world), and our image in the rest of the globe is not even close to a decorous one.

Sure, Obama is nice, likable, and smart person. I was impressed with him when I saw him at the Democratic State Convention in San Diego. He is an awesome public speaker, and his campaign PR is amazing, but is this enough? Of course not! The cold fact is that he is not ripe enough. There is no way around it; he lacks the experience needed to lead this country, especially in light of the aforementioned difficulties. Just because Oprah supports his campaign (as she does books and other trivial items) doesn’t mean that we need to stop utilizing our analytical capacities. I wonder, how reality blind, and celebrity feverish can we afford to be at this juncture?

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This is a follow up to a previous article I wrote about DL’s for all Drivers. A few of my good Republican friends, always concerned about keeping me well informed, went out of their way to send me the articles about how, due to “public pressure”, the New York governor decided to back down on his decision to issue Drivers Licenses to undocumented immigrants. I can’t avoid wondering whether the pressure came from those citizens who don’t bother to vote? or from those who don’t know the REAL issues that our country faces? Or, could it be pure political pressure at its best, instead?
At some point it will have to happen, the question is how long is it going to take, and at what social price?

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Everything Needs To Be Perfect In Paradise!

by By Silvia Uribe

We, Santa Barbarans, have an attitude problem. Yes, we all do! Locals, implanted, Caucasian, Latino, old, young, Asian, and African American…we have collectively convinced each other and ourselves that we are not only deserving but entitled to all good things that life has to offer. Climate MUST be perfect! Anything over or below 70 degrees we perceive to be a personal attack; our news broadcast have a "storm watch" every time there's a drizzle, and a "wind advisory" when we can barely feel the wind blowing. We also have so many not for profit organizations that not even the most knowledgeable community members can agree on whether there are 500 or upward to 700. Our every possible need has been anticipated, and people are ready to help us at any given moment. We have glorious vistas that we take for granted, and many of us hardly ever get out to enjoy the beach, mountains, creeks, and sunsets, that people can only dream about in other places.

To prove my point, I have the perfect example. Not too long ago, I was speaking with an acquaintance who was complaining about how the ash from the recent fires made it impossible for her to go out to exercise those days, and how the hot climate due to the so called "inversion", made it difficult to keep her armpits dry (yuck!). As she was complaining about her perceived "problems", I was wondering, how self-absorbed can we get. If she had only thought about the 500,000 plus people who were displaced, according to the news, and who-knows-how many who had lost their homes, their pets, and all their possessions, she would have not dared complain.

When in fact there is a stronger breeze, we wear thick coats and gloves, and many people prefer to stay inside their homes. How can I say this? The fact that the breeze may blow stronger than usual, does not necessarily mean that it is colder. Distance is another complaint. If we have to travel more than 5 miles, we think that our destination is far, and thus we take into consideration the wear-and-tear of our cars, not to mention the gas expense. Planning a trip from Santa Barbara to Goleta, or vice versa? Forget it, too far! I ask myself, do we really need to have everything at our fingertips? Having lived in a big city, where a 1-hour trip is considered a fast and easy one, I am not able yet to echo that complaint. This brings me to the amount of traffic in Santa Barbara. When there are more than five cars waiting to go at any given stop light, we consider it heavy traffic! Oh, and yes, we are livid about bad drivers, as well. You know, people who do the California stop, who honk the horn, who do not respect the four way stop, who forget to use their blinkers, and cut in front of other cars; and about pedestrians, who don't know where to cross the streets. I've heard locals complain about (so many) tourists, about the downtown bar area (too much noise), and about Fiesta. (Ah, the horror! Too many drunk people, tourists, and noise combined. "Let's kill it!" some say, or at least, "Let's get out of town!").

Everything needs to be perfect in paradise!

The fact of the matter is that in order to be so, paradise needs to have a little bit of everything to please everyone. For instance, when I came to live here with my family (imported directly from one of the most populated cities in the world), I felt I needed to see more people than the too few neighbors visible on the streets in the Samarkand area, where we used to live. It felt too lonely for me and a little eerie too. That's how I started our tradition of going to State Street to sit outside the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf to have coffee, people-watch, and talk to different people (a mosaic artist, a landlord, a county employee, a commercial writer, a parts technician, and a nurse), whom after ten plus years, we consider family.

So yes, we Santa Barbarans (born here or by adoption) might have an attitude problem. But who can blame us? Even the rich and famous, who could live anywhere, have joined us for the ride. In the end we're here all together; we are happy; we learn; and we are culturally richer because of each other.

There is no doubt. We live in Paradise!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

It Had To Be The Big Apple!

A few days ago I went to bed with the appeasing notion that it is not only mine and a few other voices anymore. It’s now two cities in the US which seem to have come to the same conclusion. Recently, the cosmopolitan, advanced, diverse, New York City finally approved the issuance of Driver Licenses to undocumented immigrants. This is the kind of attitude and vision that sets the Big Apple apart from most other cities.

The way I see it, this is something that needs to happen everywhere and soon. Why? Let’s analyze it. First and foremost we need to clearly understand that having a driver’s license only means that one knows how to drive, that we are in reality, the person we claim to be, and it also provides our DOB plus our permanent residence address. That’s all! It does not mean absolutely anything more than that. As we know, a driver’s license, along with the title of the car, also gives us the opportunity to get car insurance (which is mandatory in the State of California.)

So far, so good I hope. We’re just talking about the facts of an identification document which confirms that we know how to operate a vehicle. Great!

Now, let’s pretend that we are peacefully driving on the beautiful Santa Barbara streets, and we have an accident; our vehicle is totaled and we end up going to the ER with (let’s not be dramatic) minor injuries. A few days later, when we look at the police report we are faced with several unsettling facts like the other car did not have insurance, the driver did not have a DL and that he or she possibly, gave a fake name. How do you like this case scenario? Maybe it has happened to you, and you know exactly how it feels. If not, I’m sure just thinking about it gives you the chills as it does to me. This is only one reason why every driver should have a license.

It seems like there’s no logical argument against it. It is what better protects everyone, and this is precisely the main responsibility that the government has. But there’s still opposition. Some argue that undocumented immigrants should not be able to obtain any legal document. Ok, this is like the pink elephant in the middle of the room! Not because they don’t have a DL they’re not going to drive, hello! What will continue to happen is that a number of people will still be unidentified, and unaccounted for. It seems like some sort of political agenda is cashing in on the fear that some already have of those undocumented. But even if it was true that undocumented immigrants are to be feared (forget altogether the wrongfulness of stereotyping), wouldn’t we really want to know who they are in order to be able to catch them as soon as they “make their first unlawful move”?

The reality is that the vast majority of documented and undocumented immigrants are here to work hard, which is not only beneficial to them and their families, but also to our country which has historically greatly profited from their labor. And yes, there are other practical reasons why they should have a DL. Without a legal ID people cannot only drive freely on our roads, but they cannot open a bank account, cash a check at a bank, or start a credit history. I have the distinct feeling that this injustice is not what our founding fathers had in mind when they chose to have the “liberty and justice for all” declaration in our Pledge of Allegiance.

Anyway, I will rest this political battle for now with the hope that one by one other cities in the U.S. (including our beautiful Santa Barbara) will soon come to reason, and give the green light to DL’s for ALL drivers.

In the meantime, I wish you ¡Buena suerte y hasta la próxima!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Latino Kids In Gangs...Are Parents To Blame?

In light of all the present gang activity in the Central Coast, many people ask themselves and those who might have an answer why is it that these, at times, very young kids are out and about with no parental supervision of their activities, their friends or the bad habits they might be picking up along the way. People have asked me as recently as last Sunday, when I was invited to talk about the Mexican/Latino cultural heritage, how is it possible to talk about the importance Latinos give to family, and at the same time completely ignore their children. Now, that’s not necessarily what happens, although I recognize why the perception is such.

Raising our children:
In order to start from the beginning I should say that the way children are raised here is, for the most part, foreign to us Latinos. Children here have a lot of more freedom, more privacy and more decision making opportunities. In our Latino culture one acquirLes those “privileges” with age. Kids are supposed to obey what mom and dad, and the grandparents, and the teachers say. Parents never leave it up to the kids whether they want to do something or not. They just tell their kids what to do, period. By the same token, a kid in the Latino culture is rarely allowed to lock their bedroom door not letting anyone – especially his/her parents – to come in. We feel that children’s activities need to be supervised to prevent them from getting into trouble. Why we think like that? The perfect example on this is the episode at Columbine HS where both assailants had an arsenal kept in their room, and the parents never knew about it.

The break-down.
When Latinos come to the US we find out, the hard way sometimes, that kids are treated differently here. The structure for kids is not as “rigid”. In fact, compared to the kind of structure we’re used to, we feel that there’s none here for us to rely on, and to make kids abide by the rules. I remember a time when I was at the beach with my then, 4 year old daughter. I was reprimanding her because she kept running into the water on her own, while I was busy with her sister. At some point, I held her hand preventing her from running off once more. She was yelling as only a kid with a tantrum can. A woman came out of nowhere, and proceeded to threaten me that if I didn’t stop my reprimand, and let “the poor little girl” go, she would call the police on me. Of course she backed off immediately when I told her that I would hold her responsible if that “poor little girl” drowned. Boy… was I confused with the whole incident! The lady wanted me to let my daughter do as she wished? Or did she think it was a good idea to leave my other daughter by herself on the beach while taking care of the first one in the water? I am strong-spirited, so people do not intimidate me easily, but others frankly don’t know how to react or what to do. They feel their authority has been taken out of their hands, and they have not been given an effective/viable alternative to deal with children or teens’ strong will. Now, if we’re talking about school, parents are rarely made aware of any discipline and/or academic problems until it is too late, and the bad behavior has, unfortunately, become a habit for kids. It is then when parents throw their hands in the air, helpless and not knowing what to do.

My concern...
It is concerning that the immediate assumption is that Latino parents don’t care about their children, or that they don’t try to solve the problem. This assumption generates a lack of trust (“…what kind of people is this that don’t care about their children?”), and ill feelings against a race as a whole. I work on a daily basis with these families, and I have yet to hear a parent tell me that they don’t care about what happens to their kids, or that they are not afraid, more so than the rest of the community, to see their kids die because of street violence.

The solution…As usual, it all comes down to education. Yes, parent education in this case. There are great programs for parents out there, which combine prevention techniques on how to set boundaries and discipline, with making parents aware on how the system works here, what is available to them, and what their rights are. Of course these programs/trainings cost money that in many cases families don’t have. It would cost around $6,500 to train 30 individuals who will hopefully be able, in the future, to train other parents. If you are interested in more details or if you want to sponsor a training, please contact me

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Monday, September 24, 2007

Parenting Is Not a Popularity Contest!

By Silvia Uribe

After speaking to a desperate parent, I decided to share my personal experience as a mother of two with those who feel sad and fearful of not being able to do a good job with their kids.
We have always known that being a good parent has never been an easy thing. We seem to always be judged not only by our own kids, but also by estrangers who may see that our moral values, style or customs differ from the norm. But having faced these, I think that the challenge is well worth it.

It is more so, if you come from a different culture, country, era, or whatever other differences there are, like we do. Yes, I might not look of a particular background, but my husband I have certainly taught our children our Latino, Mexican/Spanish to be more specific, ways with the “oh, so expected” whining on their part. The main thing we taught them is that family comes first, before work, friends, money and everything else. We’ve taught them this by example. We have also taught them to not only interact with adults, but also to respect and learn from elders, and for instance, to have the courtesy of standing up and giving them their seat when a room is full, and no more seats are available; to say hello and good bye when there is a person as they come in or out of a place; to eat at the dinner table (with manners too), and to share the good and bad of the day. As they were growing up, I never let them stay over at their friends’ home, no matter how well I knew them, which raised many eyebrows among their peers’ parents. If this is not terrifying enough for many, allow me to share that locks on doors and drawers are never used in our home to preserve our “privacy” to the point of not knowing who or what is kept behind doors (remember the Columbine High School incident, and what an arsenal these boys kept in their rooms without the parents knowledge?) We substitute locks with respect and trust. When there was a party, I always made sure to talk to the parents of whoever invited them to make sure they were going to be present (I can still remember the rolling of my kids eyes every time they handed me their friends' parents’ phone number). During high school age, I always suggested that the party would be at our home, just to make sure that things would not get out of hand. Oh, and as far as camps go I went with them to most Girl Scout camps, and we had a lot of fun together (scary huh?) Among many other things, we taught them the value of waiting for things, of nurturing their spirit, and their mind, of observing and analyzing people and situations, and the value of being able to accept “no” for an answer, but also the ability to recognize when they should and shouldn’t be persistent about their desire.

We had rough times, in which (not surprisingly) they really didn’t particularly like me, since I was the vigilante eye upon them. In those situations I always ask one thing from them: TRUST. What they couldn’t see through the crystal of their youth was that we were also teaching them patience, reasoning, decision making skills, and of course, responsibility. At the same time, they were gaining self confidence, and they were creating a self image that did not depend on others’ opinions. There were, and still are, rules at home for everyone to follow, including us parents. So, when my oldest daughter asked me what would change for her at home when she was about to turn 18, the answer was very easy: NOTHING! She would still have to follow the rules, as the rest of us did. Of course, as they were growing in age and maturity, they acquired a lot of more freedom, they started driving, working, socializing, and filling their time with fun and interesting activities like traveling the world (without us parents), to the point that the “fight” for freedom became a moot point, since they earned it with responsibility.

Yes, we had to be very firm, even strict at times, and it was certainly not always easy. Parenting is not a popularity contest, alright! We constantly had to endure the never ending “…we are not in Mexico anymore, mom…”, and the “…but all my friends do it…!” The truth of the matter is that we adapted and adjusted to a new culture, and we perfectly fit in the community, but we kept our identity. We had to teach our kids according to who we were, our moral values, and our culture. We had to make some tough decisions, risking being perceived by our children as “the bad guy”, but, in our view, that’s an ok price compared with the peace of mind of knowing that they’re well equipped for life now.

Our daughters have had a successful school career; one of them graduated from UCSB, holds a professional job in town, and is creating a name for herself in the community. The other one is still a student, has a job, and a very nice group of friends. But what I see as the most important thing is that we enjoy a wonderful, loving, and strong family relationship, where support, trust, loyalty, and respect are present for all of us all the time. We know we can count on each other! Hopefully, they will be able to replicate this, one day, with their own family.

So, if this kind of situation sounds familiar, whether or not you’re from a different background, don’t lose your calm, your cool, your charm or your strength when faced with difficult periods with your children. Recognize that you are just in the middle of the tunnel, trying to get to the other side, and you will….with time and patience. In the meantime, know that the prize to that patience and persistence will be to know that your children are strong, happy and prepared to fly on their own. So, for us at this point I can only say: so far, so good!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What's Going On Between Men and Women?

By Silvia Uribe

This is the question that a 23 year old posted on my website. She was referring to the kind of relationships that happen today which follow no rules, have no expectations, and over all, no commitment. She indicated she’s noticed that in past times – as close as the previous generation – lines were clearly established, approaches were understood and accepted, and basically everyone knew how to play the game. “Not today – she claims. Today people meet, and if they like each other pretty soon they’re sleeping together. They don’t necessarily know each other, and they don’t trust each other but they decide to share a house, and in many cases, their finances. How is that possible?”
According to her, in the past, things were clearer and easier to understand, therefore, people knew exactly where were they standing, how to act, and what were the expectations on both sides. “For God sake, we don’t even know how to introduce our significant other: as a friend, or as a boyfriend? What’s the line and when you cross it? and… these are the easier to answer questions, because there are others more complicated, such as how to choose who to date, or go out, or hook up with? We are not even clear on what we’re doing and what to call it. Are we to choose based on character? Well… that’s a problem too - according to my young reader-. "In the past men were “manly” enough to go after who they wanted, to court, and to take the risk of being rejected. Men now sit back and wait to see what the woman is willing to do. They take a comfortable position instead of a pro-active one. If we are talking about choosing based on education, this can certainly post a problem for those women who are not only obtaining their Bachelors, and Masters, and PhD’s, but who also like to read, travel, and have a variety of interests. How about based on drive? Then, even more of a barrier! - and she proceeded to ask me, - How many young guys you know that are a go-getter, a goal setter, and a trail blazer with high dreams and ambitions who know where they want to go, and how to get there?" (Let's admit it, this kind she describes, has never abounded.)
I see her point. However, I think that a lot of those unattractive behaviors that men present have not only been accepted, but they have been encouraged by women, and here is why. We have been confused between being independent, smart, and strong in more than one way, and not needing a man’s strength, support, and advice. We have clearly sent them the message that we don’t need or want to admire them, trust them or depend on them in any way. Why? Just because that’s what the old idea of “feminism” is all about? Yet, I still have to hear a woman say that she feels great having a mediocre, lazy man, with no imagination who only likes to be taken care of, next to her. I truly believe that we need to adjust the expectations that women have of men, and that we start taking a modern, more mature approach to the concept of feminism. Can we mix the feministic values, in which I totally believe, with a less self-sufficient, aggressive, almost "macho" attitude that women so much deplore when a man exhibits it? Can we be who we are, without undermining who men can be? If we let them open the door for us, it does not mean that we don't have the strength to do it. If we let them court us with charming details, it does not mean that we cannot also set clear limits. Can we, please, reach a healthy and much needed balance between who we are, and what we want in a man, and find an articulate way to convey it? It is possible, and several strong, smart women I know can attest to it, and have a great "manly" man by their side. The good news is that it is up to each one of us. Men are not going to want to leave their comfortable position, unless they see the need for it. We have to be the driving force of this particular change in them, for our own good.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.