What We Are Reading: Covert Cows

What We Are Reading: Covert Cows

By
Omaira Gonzalez

Once a quarter, the directors get together to read and review a book together. Before the end of 2019, we read “Covert Cows and Chick-Fil-A” by Steve Robinson.

There were many great lessons to learn. My biggest takeaway was the importance of having a clear vision for yourself, organization, and the customers you serve. Truett was clear on the kind of business he wanted to run: one built around relationship, excellence, and integrity. When they began to expand, ensuring that each establishment upheld these principles was very important. His vision for himself was to first model the principles and behaviors he expected his team to practice. Truett believed that the use of personal power is so much more effective than position power. His vision for the organization was to treat others with excellence, be consistent in hospitality, and always aspire to the next level of service. The service delivered was key, but hospitality added value.

In order to remain grounded during times of crisis, the leaders devised a purpose statement to remind themselves why they existed and to help clear the path for future growth:

“To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us, and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-Fil-A.”

The influence of Truett and his ability to impart vision demonstrated how he lived his life.

Question: How much clarity do you have about what your business stands for and why you exist?

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For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

What Blurs and Spurs A Vision?

What Blurs and Spurs A Vision?

By
Dr. Alicia La hoz

We were on the last rope of the zipline course in Costa Rica. We had planned this trip for months and when the day came, the adventure began with an aerial tram that took us through the rainforest before we were harnessed and attached to a cable. We were taken to a perilous platform on a tree about 100 feet above the ground where we dutifully waited our turn. The first 8 ropes were exhilarating as we experienced a birds eye view of the rainforest. And then on the last rope, I failed to follow the instructions of how to properly grip the cable line and that is when the trouble began. I lost momentum and thus my cable stopped dead in the middle of the cable line. I was stuck and as I hovered over the rainforest the fun was replaced by fear. The hand gestures of the folks on the other side trying to remind me of what to do was difficult for me to comprehend since I was swept over by fright. When I stopped looking behind me and instead steadied my gaze forward I saw my husband. At first I saw him coming down pretty fast down the line and for an instant the thought crossed my mind that we would crash. Except he ultimately slowed down and my fear and dreadful expectation quickly changed to hope and relief as deep down, I knew he would know what to do. Talk about seeing your spouse as a hero! He hauled me to the platform and to safety.

While fear crippled my ability to focus and understand the instructions to get out of the jam I had gotten into, trust gave me hope and it got me through. As we consider what makes a perfect vision, it would make sense to first diagnose the conditions that blur our vision. The blemishes and imperfections that impede us from seeing clearly are often powerful agents that limit our understanding and comprehension. There are many distractions and interruptions that keep us from looking up and keep us away from the focal point. During our adventure, insecurity took over and that gave a foothold for fear to get a grip on me. Similarly, when we let doubts and disappointments hover over us, our progress is halted. Forgetting and fearing are two players that blur our vision.

We are fearful

Fear is a powerful emotion that can take hold of us. There are so many fears such as: fear of rejection, fear of not being valued or recognized, fear of conflict. Jia Jiang in his book Rejection Proof shares his story of shying away from his dream of entrepreneurship because of his fear of rejection. After a push from his wife, he quits the security of an established career, a 6 figure income, and pursues his dream. Upon notice of being denied by the first investor he sought, the unbearable pain felt led him to recognize that unless he harnessed his fear of rejection, his outlook for succeeding was dismal. He thus decided to purposely seek out rejection to become stronger. The book narrates the lessons learned in his journey of being rejected 100 times. He begins by describing the overwhelming fear felt when he first asked a security guard at an office building to borrow $100. He recorded himself and in the video picked up how his terrified look, nervousness, and lack of confidence kept him from following up and answering the guard’s follow up question of “why”. Fear kept him from seeing the conversation through. When we are unaware of our fears, they can hold power over us as we are often persuaded by its grip to not change, to stay within the comforts of what we know. Fear can keep you from being mobilized to do what is needed to activate the vision before you. Jia Jiang became an expert on rejection. Through his experiences he evaluated, reflected, and came to understand the root of his fears. We can learn from Jia Jiang’s evaluative reflection. Instead of ignoring or denying, face the fear. Take a moment to understand why things hold you back and what these fears are about. Evaluate where these fears are coming from, how much of it is reasonable and how much of it is heightened by negative experiences you may need to heal from. If you don’t harness your fears, anxiety can easily take over your life and keep you from seeing clearly.

We forget

Have you read or heard the stories in the Old Testament of the Israelites who continuously forgot all the miraculous ways God had saved and restored them? In fact, the New International Version, cites the word “remember” 130 times in the Old Testament! It’s easy to read through those passages and quickly judge the Israelites forgetfulness and lack of gratitude. And yet we are just as plagued by the tendency to forget. In fact, psychologists talk about mood dependent memory. This means that we are more likely to recall the memories which fit our current mood. If you are angry at someone, happy memories most likely won’t come to mind. In an upset state, beautiful moments shared are forgotten. Take the story shared earlier about my husband. This is one of many treasured memories in our story that one would think would be the script that is permanently before us. NOT. What happens when I sleep poorly, am irritated at a disappointing situation before me, or simply upset at a decision we are at odds about? The memories of other disappointing situations come to mind, further adding to the tension of the current state. In those moments, I forget to be grateful, to be generous, to be thoughtful, to remember what is good and what was good. And if you are like me, forgetting means I can easily become bitter. And contempt, a destroyer of relationships, is just a few steps away. It is so important to remember. How can we remember when we are so bent on forgetting? We have to be intentional about remembering why we are on this journey. In the same way organizations draft a vision statement, I have found it valuable to draft a family vision statement. We have this printed on a book and visit it through the years. We talk about it, discuss how we can live this out practically, and strategize our goals and aspirations around it. To read more about how to create your own vision statement, click here.

Trust sharpens our vision

Forged through trust, fellowship and community enable us to create a pathway forward. Family Bridges’ vision statement, “Strong families for purpose driven children, leaders of their generation, committed to their communities” came into being in the context of community. Stakeholders, affiliates, board members, and staff all participated in a painstaking effort to bring it together. It includes a series of belief statements that provide a picture of how things would be for future generations if we see our mission through. But how were we able to work on this together?

A spirit of hospitality

For months, prior to our forging the statement, we met monthly and visited one another’s organizations across the city. We spent time listening to the work we were invested in and we collaborated on putting together programs and events, leveraging each other’s resources. In essence, we carried on a spirit of hospitality. We respect each other’s ideas, projects, and approaches and worked together to forge a path forward.

Disciplined accountability

We held and continue to hold each other accountable in terms of the goals we aspire to reach. Trust is established when there is a history of reliability and dependability. Our partners and affiliates had shown up time and time again serving together with very limited resources. Similarly, I trusted my husband on the zipline because time and time again, he had been there. The covenant of commitment was a foundation to the trust that steadied our relationship over the years. And through trust, our relationship was strengthened through consistent experiences of being reliable and dependable.

In both examples shared in this blog, my marriage and Family Bridges, trust took time to build and it came about as all parties involved contributed, showed up, and delivered. What we have learned is that a vision is made stronger when it is forged in fellowship and when it is held onto by a process of accountability. Without others, a vision statement would only be words on a page. In my zipline example above, I looked up at my husband and his courage gave us both confidence to get through. In community, we hold each other up and carry each other through. A perfect vision for 2020 requires that we retire the fears that hold us back, remember the reasons we do what we do, and build together through a trusting relationship. As we trust one another, we can begin to hold each other accountable and see our future aspirations come to fruition.

I’d love to hear from you, what have you found that blurs or spurs your vision?

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For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

Featured Program: AVANCE

Featured Program: AVANCE

By
Dr. Alicia La hoz

AVANCE

Love is our not-so-secret ingredient. We pour love into everything we do, because we know that one person can make a big difference. That’s what AVANCE does. One person impacting the lives of those around them – at home, in their community and around the world.

In 2012, our programs were nationally recognized as a best-practice model by the Administration for Children and Families. As a result, we received multiple inquiries from providers across the nation looking to replicate our model. Our team began thinking about how we might scale our marriage and family programs to cities beyond the Chicagoland region.

Our board, program directors, and advisors began to develop a blueprint to help us crystallize our vision. So began Family Bridges’ evolution from an organization primarily focused on direct delivery of marriage and family education services to an agency focused on catalyzing champions and providers by equipping, empowering, and encouraging them.

Eight years later, the program is now a consultation model for churches called AVANCE. We partner with local champions to deliver workshops in hundreds of locations including civic centers, schools, NFPOs, churches, and even correctional facilities. These AVANCE champions have embraced our vision and mission to be agents of change in their own communities by applying our approach of going where people are at. AVANCE has been successfully launched in Phoenix, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Spain.

In order to better measure the program’s impact, we launched a longitudinal evaluation of the program (CLEAR) in 2016. This unique quasi-experimental study includes extensive outcome measures for 10 parishes in Chicago. The program has now reached the halfway point. Although new study sites have recently opened and not all participating sites have been active long enough to generate comparison data, existing data allows for preliminary analysis. And the results are very promising. Analyses of current data indicate statistically significant increases over time in:

  • Attitude towards marriage
  • Relationship health and satisfaction
  • Parenting skills
  • Parish involvement
  • Satisfaction with the parish’s role in supporting marriage

Additionally, significant reduction was observed in measures of likelihood to divorce, with more dramatic reductions observed in participants at highest risk for divorce among our sample. The findings have also found that sustained involvement yields superior results over a single point intervention.

CLEAR also measures volunteer self-report on increase in skills related to leadership in the program and increase in capacity to serve in the church and the community. At this time, a statistically significant increase was observed in volunteer self-evaluation of leadership skills.

February 13

1:00 PM CST

Family Bridges will host a brief call with the principal researcher, Nancy Lewis from the University of Texas, and primary program administrators to discuss the outcomes of the project. Please RSVP to anny@familybridgesusa.org to join the conference call and learn more about these promising results.

New Beginnings

New Beginnings

By
Caleb Simula

I’ve spent many evenings watching the sunset from my tree stand, but I have never felt my soul renewed in the same way that a sunrise from the same tree stand makes me feel. My favorite bible verse to meditate on while in the woods is Psalms 143:8. It says, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” Each morning, whether it be from the old maple tree that my stand is in or from the 6 am morning traffic in the Chicago suburbs, I find myself thankful for the new opportunities each sunrise brings.

I grew up on a small hobby farm, right off a dirt road in a fairly remote part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My dad and my grandfather are the two people who helped me understand the importance of seeing every morning as a new beginning. When I was a junior in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do for work once I graduated. One day we had a representative from the local college come to our class to talk to us about skilled trades classes that they offer to seniors. During this time, I had my three close friends John, Dylan, and Andrew. We all decided to take their welding class just so that we didn’t have to be in school for half of the day. Once I realized how fun and rewarding a welding career could be, I knew that it’s what I wanted to make a career out of, I packed my bags and said goodbye to my parents. The time had come for me to begin a new chapter in my life.

I accepted a third shift welding job in a small Minnesota city called Detroit Lakes, about an hour east of Fargo, North Dakota. Here is where I experienced a completely new process of welding. When learning welding in high school, they only taught us the absolute basics of welding. I was ecstatic to learn the new way to weld, and I put my welding hood down every night, eager to hone my skill. One night when welding production was slow, my shift lead pulled me into his office and asked me to help out in the tubing department. With the same amount of drive I had for learning welding, I now put into learning how to use tube bending machines. I knew that the more new types of jobs I could learn, the better my resume would look. Plus, it got me out of my welding cubicle and into a new part of the building. I made so many mistakes while working in the tubing department, but that didn’t stop me from loving the benefits of learning new skills. Throughout the one and a half years I was working here, I was also dating a beautiful girl from south Florida, her name is Erin. We had met when I was 15, and she was 13 and began dating my senior year of high school. One day I realized that I didn’t want to date her from such long distances. So this snow-loving, forest exploring welder once again packed up his bags and moved to the concrete jungle of Cooper City, Florida.

To provide for myself while looking for welding jobs, I had to take a landscaping job. Now, everyone else that has lived in South Florida knows that landscaping is probably the last job a Florida resident would want, let alone some kid from Michigan who would run around in the snow with no shoes and only a pair of shorts on, for FUN. It didn’t stop me; I was on top of the world. For the first time in my life, I was living a few towns over from the girl I loved. I worked insane hours in the Florida sun. Finally, after six months of job searching, I accepted a welding job working on multi-million dollar yachts. This is where I again experienced a completely new process of welding. With this new job came a whole new opportunity to learn all over again.

After about two years at that job, I gathered Erin and her two cousins along with John, my best friend from high school, and his girlfriend, and we went down to the Florida keys for the day. Everyone but Erin knew the real reason why we made such a special trip. As Kristina (Erin’s cousin) and I placed candles in the shape of a heart, my actual heart was beating a million miles an hour. Was I about to ask Erin for her hand in marriage? Am I ready for such a new stage of life? Of course, I was, so with her father’s blessing and her family’s approval on the evening of January 3rd, I got down on one knee, and through a flood of tears and snot, I somehow managed to ask her to marry me. She said YES! Now came all the wedding planning. And on a cold rainy day on August 20th, in the front yard of my grandparent’s house in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Erin and I, along with her family, my family, and with a few of our closest friends, we exchanged our vows. After our honeymoon, we resumed our lives in South Florida. Erin graduated from the Art Institute of Ft Lauderdale with an associate’s degree in graphic design. Only one month after she graduated, we found ourselves packing all we owned into a U-Haul and moving across the country to the Chicago suburbs.

In the suburbs of Chicago, we are only a short six-hour drive to my parents’ house and an even shorter three-hour flight back to South Florida. With completely new territory came a whole new set of beginnings. Erin got a job doing what she went to college for, and I found a new welding job. You guessed it! My new job consists of a whole new process of welding. We had to find a new church, which took some time, but we are finally at a church where we feel at home. For my most recent “New Beginning,” we recently found out that Erin is pregnant with our first child. I have never been so excited about a new stage in life than I am now. As I look back, all of the early mornings I found myself in my tree stand praising God for a new sunrise, a new day, a new opportunity. I see that there is no better time to start new than in the morning. I hope you’re not afraid to fail when encountering new beginnings because there will, for sure, be a new opportunity to try again in the morning.

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For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

Fear is the mind-killer

Fear is the mind-killer

By
José-Andrés Alegría

Donovan Mitchell, star shooting guard for the Utah Jazz, once wrote “determination over negativity.” I remember reading his piece in The Player’s Tribune and immediately sending it to my mom. I felt like I was reading about my childhood, but I wasn’t the one who wrote it. Just like in his article, I was always a hyper kid, always active. And my mom had to let me run wild, within reason of course. If my childhood had a soundtrack it would have been the constant THUNK THUNK THUNK of a ball, any ball I could get my little hands on, bouncing off of the wall. Had there been Fitbits back in the day, I would have cleared 30,000 steps a day quickly. That’s until I tore my ACL in my sophomore year of high school. It sucked. But it wasn’t the actual injury that was the worst part. It wasn’t that I couldn’t play soccer that season. It wasn’t that I had to be conscientious of every step with my bum leg until I got it fixed. It was feeling trapped in my own body. Not being able to run around, let alone walk. It was debilitating, mentally. Tearing my ACL was the most prominent injury I had ever gotten up until that point. I had broken a bunch of bones, gotten hit by a car, cracked my sternum; they’re the reason my fingers crack every time I make a fist or my ankles make a pop whenever I go up the stairs. But my ACL was something entirely different. It was weeks of hard work to be able to bend my knee past 90 degrees comfortably, then another few weeks of learning to walk without crutches, then learning to walk without a knee brace so that I could eventually learn to run without it. It was a drag, and it wasn’t until recently that I noticed that my past injury was still affecting me mentally.

With the luck of a black cat, I tore my other ACL in my sophomore year of college. That was about four years ago. I never got it fixed. It sounds dumb, but I thought that by not getting it fixed, I was saving myself from the dark headspace I had gotten into back in high school. What I didn’t realize was that I missed being able to run around and play sports. I got into a complacent mindset that sitting inside was somehow good for me. Crazy, I know! And what made me realize that I missed playing sports was anime (Japanese cartoon). Yes, I’m a nerd who watches anime, but I seldom watch sports anime. I think they are dumb. Well, I thought they were until, for whatever reason, I decided to watch HAIKYU. It’s an anime that centers around a short high school volleyball player who dreams of being the best. Not to go too in-depth, but this reignited something in me. Or maybe I should say, it made me remember a piece of me I had forgotten.

That’s why, on December 3rd, I had surgery to fix my ACL. It has been a long and arduous journey to try to get back to normal and it has only been 4 weeks, but this time I knew what to expect. I have a goal. And more importantly, I have a group of friends, who even though I live 1300 miles away from them, have held accountable, kept me positive, and are ready to the ball whenever I go home to visit. I have been tired of making excuses. Just tired of just sitting around and doing nothing all day. I’m going to be able to make it back out on to the court, whether it’s for volleyball, basketball, or something else.

For as long as I remember, I have run, jumped, skipped, or played my way through my life. I have never let anything keep me down. If I ever fell, I got up right away, ready to try it again. Failure was always a challenge to better myself. But then I went down and never really ever got back up. Ten year-old me would be so mad at 22 year-old me for “being a quitter.” No one expects to remain the same as when they were a kid, but I went from someone who loved being outside and running around to someone who hates being outside. But what I hate is the fear I have of injuring myself. “Fear is the mind-killer” is something I have tattooed on my body, and yet for the last four years, I have let fear dictate my life. So for the New Year and as a general readjustment in my life, I am fixing my knee, fixing my state of mind, and as a whole, not letting fear dictate my life. “Determination over negativity,” remember?

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For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

Learning to Compromise

Learning to Compromise

By
Omaira Gonzalez

My husband and I took a trip to Menards to pick tiles this weekend. We finally agreed that it was time to do some remodeling in our home. Now I do not know how this usually works in your marriage, but in mine, we can’t seem to agree 85% of the time. He likes one thing, I want another, and we will spend what should have been a 30 minutes trip at the store to a whole field trip. We cannot seem to pick tiles we both like, but now we have to go to all the other stores to compare. Guess what? Nothing had changed from when we went to Menards the first time. We still have different tastes, and we each are trying very hard to win this war of the tiles.

After a few stores, I accept that this is a battle not worth carrying out into the field. So I ask for a truce, and we decide to compromise. We look at each design we like, and then we narrowed our search to the one that is most similar to both his taste and mine. Now, what would that have looked like if we had done that in the beginning? We would have saved countless hours at the store and had time to go to a restaurant and enjoy a nice meal.

In relationships, many times, we will not always get our way. However, we have to compromise. What do I mean by this? In marriage, we both come into the relationship with our interests, desires, ideas, and tastes. Compromising is more like working together towards a favorable outcome for both. This not only pertains to small decisions but also big ones.

Of course, the small compromises in a marriage can be pretty easy to make (or not); however, they are just as important. For example, you want seafood, and your spouse wants steak. A compromise is to choose a restaurant that has both. How about a more substantial compromise? How about buying a house? You may want a particular style of home, and your spouse may want another. You want to live in a particular neighborhood, and your spouse wants to live somewhere else. I have been there! While this may take some negotiating, it is important for you and your spouse to work towards common goals and to consider each other’s point of view. Now when you do reach a happy compromise…celebrate.

Compromising does not have to be negative; the key is to find a win-win. Here is a tip that can help when you both are struggling with compromising:

Listen: Ask questions about what he/she wants or likes. Listen to each other’s point of view. If you do not understand something, ask. Trying to push your idea or wants onto someone else without considering them can lead to frustration and behaviors such as sarcasm. Make an effort to understand and hear your spouse out…you may find what the win-win is for both in the conversation.

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For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

Five tips to help teach your kids Spanish

Five tips to help teach your kids Spanish

By
Savannah Gonzalez

I was born in Mexico, raised in California up until I turned 9, that’s when my parents decided to move back to Mexico, and that is where I learned to speak Spanish. Before we moved to Mexico, I did not speak any Spanish. I don’t even know how I communicated with my dad. He doesn’t speak that much English.

The first year I lived in Mexico, I did not know any Spanish, let alone speak any, but since I had no other choice, the Spanish language just came to me. Being surrounded by Spanish speakers all day every day is only one way to learn Spanish, but there are others.

Send your kids to a Spanish speaking country.

Do what my parents did. Sending me to Mexico was a great idea. In Mexico, I had no other choice than to try to speak Spanish, because that was the only way to communicate. I think it would be great to send your kids with a relative to a Spanish speaking language for a month or so. It’s one way to learn Spanish, but it also allows your kids to get in touch with their roots.

In the house, we only speak Spanish.

Make your kids speak Spanish in the house and let them know you won’t understand them if they speak English. Make sure to stick to it. House rule: En Casa Se Habla Español. This rule might seem obvious, parents are the source of cultural knowledge, so if you slide on this, then you can’t be too upset that they don’t speak Spanish. We asked around the Family Bridges office to see how everyone taught their kids Spanish when we realized that most of the kids don’t speak Spanish.

Work in a Spanish speaking environment.

If they are old enough, make them work or volunteer in a place where they need to speak Spanish. Shameless plug, but Family Bridges is always looking for volunteers during our events. Or something as simple as volunteering at retirement homes. They can always use help, especially if you can speak even just a little Spanish.

Watching Spanish cartoons.

When I was in Mexico, high-end ladies would put English speaking cartoons to their children so they would learn English, and it really did help. I think it’s a good idea to put Spanish speaking cartoons to our children. Now it is much easier, almost all movies and cartoons have the option to set the audio in Spanish. Changing the audio doesn’t have to be every movie or tv show that they watch, but doing it every once in a while can make a difference.

Make your children feel proud of their roots and language.

If you regularly speak to your children the importance of speaking two languages (especially Spanish), I think they will feel motivated to speak it. Talk to them about their roots, the beautiful culture they have, make them feel proud of their roots. It will always be a part of who they are, so why not take the time to show them the beauty of their culture?

Making sure that your kids can speak Spanish can seem daunting. There might not be a ‘how-to guide’ on teaching your kids a second language (there probably is), but the key is just surrounding your child with Spanish. Immerse them in their culture. Maybe you need to send them to some family for a few weeks or switching some movies to Spanish. Whatever route you do decide to take, stick to it. Consistency in anything helps, but more so when learning a second language.

Stronger Together

Stronger Together

By
Delany Castañeda

Is your family okay with him? Is his family okay with you? Do you guys get stared at when in public? Is it weird being around a different culture? These are the kinds of questions I get all the time from people who find it interesting that I am in an interracial relationship. At times it can be frustrating, but I have learned to take it as an opportunity to educate others on topics like these. For many people, this is entirely new, and it is something they haven’t seen or experienced up close, and that is okay. I will answer those questions in a little, but I want to start by sharing a little bit of my story.

My Story

When I was little, I found it fascinating to be around different cultures. My first language was Spanish, and for many people, it may be a surprise since it is the language I use the least, but it was! When I began first grade, I only knew the basics of English, and I was in an all English-speaking class where I was pretty much forced to learn English all on my own. I was the only light-skinned person at my school. Quickly, many aspects of my life were affected by a culture new to me. I was surrounded by an African American culture for many years of my life growing up, and it is something that made me feel at home, although I’m Mexican. From a very young age, I began to be very fascinated by the talents, and abilities I felt their culture carried as a whole. Although there were a strong call and desire in me to know the entire world and I wanted to understand all kinds of cultures, there was always a connection in my life that drew me close to this specific culture since it was a massive part of my upbringing.

How We Met

Fast forward to the recent years of my life, I met my boyfriend, Aaron, when I was in High School. He is African American, and I am Mexican American. Ironically, we had French class together. He was a football player, and I was super shy. The only times we spoke were when he was making jokes with my best friends, and I would find them funny and laugh. So, in other words, our direct communication was very slight. Never in a million years did I think that four years after high school we would begin dating, but hey I guess that’s life, right? You never know what is in store for you in the future. When he graduated, he went off to the Navy, and I went away for college in Arizona. It was two completely different worlds. When I began college, I had the opportunity to travel the world and allowed myself to emerge into different cultures. Some cultures were harder to adapt to than others. The differences in cultures were night and day. If I learned anything from my experience of meeting people from all over the world, it was that even if I can’t understand the language someone speaks, the language of love is the strongest one. I was graduating from college while he was finishing his time in the Navy, but the crazy part is we both were coming home at the same time.

Although we thought we had so many differences, we were utterly wrong. In reality, our worlds were similar. Too similar. We both traveled the world and adapted to life in other countries for long periods. We both shared similar passions and dreams. We had common goals and values. Most importantly, we both had a dedication to our families. We were both in a transitional season where we were building our lives to accomplish dreams bigger then we could ever process. Through so much uncertainty, we were undoubtedly for each other, and that was beautiful.

Our Experience

You would think that because it is 2019, an interracial relationship wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but for many people, it is still mind-blowing. Although we have managed to stand up for ourselves and decide not to care what people think, there are still days where we wonder why it is such a big deal. Although we come from different backgrounds and have different shades of skin color, and it is so apparent to everyone around us, we forget! We don’t pay attention to those differences, and many times we wish others wouldn’t either. I would say our biggest learning struggle as a couple would be learning the different ways our families communicate with each other. In his family, there seems to be an understanding, even if something isn’t explicitly explained all the way. In my family, there is an over-explanation of stuff. Sometimes to him, it’s confusing when I over-explain myself, and for me, it can be frustrating when there is not enough of an explanation. Although at times, this can be frustrating, we have learned to laugh through the differences and enjoy the ride by simply trying our best to adapt to each other and understand each other’s backgrounds. In those cases, it isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault, but it’s just the way things are, and it takes some time to get accustomed. It has been both challenging and loads of fun figuring out what our world will look like from now on. We get to decide, and that is the best part!

So, to answer the questions I mentioned at the beginning, we have experienced close-minded people with insensitive comments. We have experienced the staring everywhere we go. We have experienced our races judging our relationship and wondering why we won’t just date within our same race. We have experienced challenges when it comes to adapting to each other’s cultures and ways of living. There is a language barrier. There are mean people out there. BUT…. We do have supportive families. We have acquired different perspectives. We have found a supportive community. We have learned to live our lives boldly together. We know where we are going together. We have found ways to guard our hearts. Through every challenge, there has been beautiful growth. We wouldn’t have it any other way, and through struggle and pain, we have become stronger together.

Tips

Love communicates across all barriers. I honestly believe that it takes a special kind of calling in your life to integrate yourself into a new culture because it does take selflessness and lots of willingness. Here are some characteristics I believe are super crucial when you decide to date someone outside of your race:

1. You must have an open mind. Being welcomed into a different culture means you need to have an open mind to things you have never seen or experienced before. Not everything will be exactly how you expect it to be, and that needs to be okay.

2. You must have a desire to learn. There will be many things to be learned when dating someone out of your race, such as language, foods, ways of living, ways of dressing, and traditions. Learning is a skill that we need to be ready to acquire because at the beginning; it really will be all about learning. Asking questions to your partner is the perfect place to start.

3. You must be willing to step outside of your comfort zone. There will be plenty of things out of your comfort zone from customs in how people communicate to trying foods you never thought you would! When you are willing to step out of your comfort zone, you genuinely grow and perhaps even find new things to love and enjoy along the way.

4. You must be adaptable. Not everything will be easy. Some things will be overwhelming, and some may be scary. Maybe you won’t agree with everything, but having an adaptable spirit makes everything easier. Learning about a different culture requires some effort and the ability to adapt outside of your comfort zone.

Tales from the Melting Pot

Tales from the Melting Pot

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Hybrid Culture
By: Ashley Reed-Simpson

My dad grew up in New Jersey. My mom grew up in the Dominican Republic. They both moved to Florida when they were in their late teens, met, married, and had three children.

Like many other kids in the melting pot of South Florida, I grew up in a “hybrid culture,” that combined elements of my dad’s upbringing with that of my mom’s. What did this intertwined culture look like daily? It was eating a warm bowl of sancocho with sliced avocado after church on a Sunday afternoon while watching the football game with my dad. It was learning how to cook rice on a stovetop pan. (And not buying a rice cooker until I moved out and realizing that I could only cook rice in my family’s decades-old “rice pot.” (Any other pot would lead to burned rice!). It looked like dressing up for every event that we attended “as a family” – casually dressing was for home and exercise, nothing else.

How did this upbringing influence me today? While not fluent in Spanish, I am proficient enough to help out when I see that a native Spanish-speaker is having difficulty communicating with a sales clerk. Athleisure is a clothing style that I reserve for when I am at home or exercising. I prefer to be “put together” when I go anywhere else. A prime example is the annoyance I feel at those who go to the theatre in hoodies and jeans. Put in some effort! Also, my home is not “really clean” until every surface has been wiped down and the floors smell like Pine-Sol. De-cluttered does not mean clean!

As I’ve grown older, I’ve met more people like me from mixed cultural backgrounds who share the strange predicament of not fully belonging to either culture that raised us. We can cook our parent’s ethnic food, but we are not proficient in the language. We grew up assimilated to American culture, but with strong influence from one parent’s “mother” culture. Some of the things that we see our “All American” peers do leave us slack-jawed (i.e., talking back to parents without receiving a swift slap with a chancleta). Don’t get me wrong; I am proud of my upbringing, and the values that came along with it. I feel like those of us who grew up in a “hybrid household” are shown a different worldview than those from homogenous homes. And in turn, make us more empathetic and open-minded.

Do you speak Spanish?
By: Kristina Reed

“Do you speak Spanish?”
a. Yes
b. No
c. It’s complicated

On the surface, this is a simple yes or no question that should require little thought to answer. However, for most of my life, my answer has been far from simple. I want to apologize to those poor souls who were trying to make small talk when they asked, only to endure an inevitably long-winded presentation of my family history and upbringing.

You see, a few decades ago, my Dominican mom and American dad made three ethnically ambiguous kids and raised us at the intersection of two cultures. This fusion of cultures means that I associate both mac and cheese and plátanos maduros (sweet plantains) with my childhood. I listened to stories about my American grandpa’s military service, as well as stories of relatives who suspiciously went missing during Trujillo’s dictatorship in the D.R. I jammed to Buddy Holly with my dad and belted out José José with my mom. When it’s time to leave the house for an event, my dad is ready to go at least 30 minutes before. My mom runs on what we like to call “Latino time,” which, when translated, means being a little more than fashionably late. I most certainly inherited my mom’s concept of time. Sorry, dad!

Growing up, my siblings and I were proficient in Spanglish. We referred to sandals as chancletas, gossip as chisme, and our aunts as tias. Of course, we could name any Dominican dish put in front of us. Talk to us in Spanish? We usually understood. Expect us to reply in Spanish? Hmmm, that depended on the day. Expect us to respond in grammatically correct, confident Spanish with no accent? No can do. While I did eventually reach a conversational level of fluency, it took YEARS of practicing and mostly fighting the deep insecurity of sounding dumb. All this effort opened the doors to friendships that otherwise would have been impossible and even stories about my family I had never known. That said, I don’t feel “more Dominican” or even “more Latina.” I never felt like I was on the outside looking in. I was raised by the most incredible family that always made you feel loved and included (even after roasting you in Spanish from the other room). I was the beneficiary of “the best of both worlds,” so to speak. I watched my parents navigate their differences and learned the value of compromise from a young age. I saw how important it is to be intentional and always resolve conflict before sundown. Most importantly, I learned that when someone loves you the way my family loves each other, it doesn’t matter which language they use to express it.

Coffee and Family
By: Erin Simula

Everyone who knows me knows how much I love my coffee. And not just in an “I need it to stay awake and alive” kind of way. I love the aroma it sends through a living space and how it draws people to one room. It’s the start of many of my friendships since it’s easy to say, “Hey, you wanna go out for coffee sometime?” Or “do you want to come to my place? I can make a pot of coffee, and we can finish our conversation.” But like a home-cooked meal with your mom’s recipe or being back at your parents after moving away, it brings me back to my childhood.

My dad is American and grew up in North Carolina. My mom is Dominican and moved to the United States when she was 15 years old with her parents and five sisters. Her and three of her sisters lived only a few houses apart from each other. So I would say I heard a lot of Spanish growing up. I never learned to speak it, but it’s funny to me that when I’m in a room full of Spanish speakers, I feel right at home. I learned enough vocabulary to kind of get it, but don’t ask me to translate. If I close my eyes and reminisce about my childhood, I can so clearly remember my mom and all her sisters all in one room, laughing so much in all high pitched voices, reiterating whatever was funny in different ways louder and louder making the joke funnier and funnier. The joy was so contagious you couldn’t help but laugh yourself. My cousins and I had no idea what they were laughing at because it was all in Spanish. But it still filled the room with joy, and that’s a memory I will never forget.

But along with all the laughter in the air was that aroma of coffee. Not everyone in my family drinks coffee. But most of them do, and so does my Abuela. I started regularly drinking it when I was in high school, and I would usually be the one to make it when my Abuela came over. For some reason, she loved the way I would make it even though her coffee is the best. When I was around five years old, I remember my Abuela pouring me a tiny little cup of it with mostly sugar. (I blame her for my “addiction” today.) But my Abuelo, who passed away six years ago, would always make sure I had a fresh slice of bread and butter to dip into it. I remember him smiling sweetly at me and saying, “Cafe con Paaaannn.” Stressing the “con pan” part, winking, and then walking away to continue watching his baseball game. I will always remember how excited I was the few days he picked me up from elementary school. And although one might think it would be an awkward car ride home, He managed to make me laugh and muster up the few English words he knew to have small conversations with me. So even though we didn’t speak the same language, I knew that he loved me and cherished moments with me too.

So for me, growing up with an American dad and a Dominican mom was a blessing. It taught me that you could be from a different country, have different color skin tones, have a different culture and still love the people around you with all your heart, grow and learn from everyone, and have a room full of laughter and love no matter what language you speak. So even after you put sugar and cream in it, and if the beans come from different places around the world, and even if it comes from a French press or a Moka Pot, at the end of the day, it’s still coffee. To many people, it brings comfort and a little happiness to the day. For me, it reminds me of my childhood. And I will cherish that forever.

How to introduce your significant other to your family

How to introduce your significant other to your family

By
José-Andrés Alegría

I have only ever brought one girl home to meet the family. My cousins have met a few of the girls I have dated, but my mom has only met one. It’s different when it comes to Latino families. It’s not just meeting mom and dad. It’s meeting mom, dad, my sisters, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, and my grandma. And that’s just immediate family. Let’s not forget about all my second cousins, who I call my aunts and uncles, are going to call and inquire about my new girlfriend. It’s bringing them and watching as they are “interrogated” by everyone in my family all at once. I felt so sick the first time. My mom always jokes how one day, I am going to show up to her house with a wife. And if I am honest, it’s a possibility. I’ve never wanted to waste my mom’s time if that makes any sense. It’s like what Big Sean says in his song Living Single.
“Look, I know what it feel like to think you found the one
Told mom that so many times that I’m sounding dumb
‘Cause she started to mix Ashley up with Tanesha
And saying ‘Hi Britney’ when I’m on the phone with Lisa.”
But how do you introduce your significant other to your family? (Side note: I asked some Latin friends and people from the office how they did it. Some of them had wild stories. Guns, machetes, and flexing muscles were involved.)

Introducing Your Significant Other Playbook

The High School Tactic

If you tell your parents that your significant other is a ‘friend’ then they can’t say anything. You might be invalidating your relationship in some way but saves yourself the hassle of dealing with that whole conversation. I would only recommend this if you are in the ‘getting to know each other still’ phase and there is no avoiding them meeting your parents for whatever reason.

The Family Party

Bring them to a family party. Tear it off like a band-aid. “Everyone, this is my girlfriend. You have 10 minutes to ask whatever questions you want.” Just let this be a surprise for your family and not your significant other. If you are dating someone who is extremely extroverted or comes from a big family, then this might work. Throw them to the wolves. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

The Lunch Meet and Greet

If your mom or dad is overprotective and has a tendency to try and ‘intimidate’ your significant other, then plan the meeting for lunch or dinner in a public space with plenty of witnesses. Let your parents meet them first and then introduce them to the rest of the family later. Even if they are Latin and used to a big family, meeting someone’s whole family at once can be overwhelming.

The Nonchalant Pick-Up

Have them pick you up from your parent’s place. When you think about your significant other meeting the family, it tends to spiral into a big deal, so make the first meeting something short and sweet. Enough time for introductions and some basic questions about who they are and then leave. Hopefully, they leave a good first impression.

The Hallmark Plan

This is the fairytale ‘we have been friends for a long time, and my family already knows them’ plan. It happens. People get out of the friend-zone sometimes. And although they say that dating a friend can be tricky sometimes, one of the benefits is that your parents already know them, and hopefully like them. It sounds like a win-win to me. (Granted this is more of a joke and very situational, but I ran out of ideas, so here we are.)

But in all seriousness, if you want to introduce your significant other to your family, just do it. What’s the worst that can happen? Your family doesn’t like them? Sometimes getting the truth about who you are dating can sting, but accountability is an excellent tool of truth. There are times that I think back on and wish my cousins and friends had just been honest about how they felt about the person I was dating. Love truly makes you blind. But the best-case scenario is your family loves them. Either way, if you are serious about your relationship, then it shouldn’t feel like some horrid form of torture to introduce your SO to your family. Just try to prepare them as much as possible for the craziness of your family. But if they’re dating you, they probably have plenty of practice already.