Five tips to help teach your kids Spanish

Five tips to help teach your kids Spanish

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

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.


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


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

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.

Marrying into a Latin Family

Marrying into a Latin Family

Greg Fleming

So my nephew asked me to write a blog post for Family Bridges about marrying into a Latino family.

I’m not sure where to begin with an assignment like that. It almost seems to beg me to invoke some politically incorrect stereotypes about Latinos and Gringos. I suppose the desired effect is a lightly humorous pastry of a fluff piece sprinkled with anecdotes that might remind the reader of an episode of “Modern Family,” injected with some sort of jelly filling extolling the virtues of humble Latino family values over soulless American greed and isolationism.

Having said that, I suppose it isn’t terribly far from my experience. I have been making some attempts recently to understand why my three kids seem so much more well adjusted than I was (or am). My 23-year-old daughter has been happily married and living far away in Chicago (I’m in South Florida) for several years now, and she never really did exhibit much of the drama that popular culture has conditioned us to expect from teenage girls. My boys (currently 15, and 12), are also already old enough for me to realize that they lack in certain rebellious and/or resentful attitudes toward me and my generation that most of my peers and I exhibited at that age toward our parents and teachers.

Although I have developed an instinctual aversion to sweeping generalizations and easy answers to complex questions, I have been toying with the notion that some of the difference may involve the general paradigm of discipline I received growing up versus the way my kids are being reared. My recollection of my own upbringing is that it involved a pattern of rewards and punishments. My parents made a fairly consistent effort to communicate what was expected of me at any given age, and what I could expect in return in the form of consequences for fulfilling or failing to fulfill those expectations.

It wasn’t the kind of harsh humorless militant discipline we often see in movies where upper-class parents mercilessly push their toddlers to high levels of achievement so they can earn a place at the most prestigious preparatory schools. We were too low of a tax bracket for that. But the behavior/consequence paradigm was always present. As far as I can tell, this was the way most of my peers were being raised as well. I suppose every approach has its benefits and drawbacks, and I certainly can’t say this one was necessarily all bad. I don’t know how much of it my parents’ generation received from their own parents, and how much came from the emergence of popular parenting psychology in the ’60s and ’70s, such as Doctor Spock and his ilk (not to be confused with Mr. Spock the Star Trek character). I guess, in the end, it felt a little too much to me like a negotiation. Although it probably wasn’t intended to, from the child’s point of view it can seem like all these rules are designed to protect the parent’s interests, ensuring that the child doesn’t overly inconvenience them.

Whether as a result of this or due to some other pattern of genetic or environmental influences on my life, I emerged into adulthood without a particularly strong sense of identity or purpose and found myself without much of an idea how to live my life, much less raise my own kids. So my approach to life and to child-rearing has been to keep my head down and avoid any more involvement than is strictly necessary, with a view toward minimizing the damage to myself, my kids and to others around me. This means that I have generally deferred to my Latina wife for the most part when it comes to raising the kids.

Bear in mind; I am not recommending this as a strategy for fatherhood (or life). I wish I could say I was the kind of dad who shares his interests and activities with his kids and teaches them lots of life lessons in the process, but I never really developed many interests and hadn’t really learned many of those life lessons myself. Perhaps this is one of the unpleasant side effects of the prevalence of television and other entertainment media in our lives. Too many of us have become spectators in our own lives rather than participants.

Looking back, it seems like my wife managed to raise the kids without resorting to very much in terms of rewards or punishments. We’ve never “grounded” any of the kids, nor have they ever done any of the things that I had done in my youth which might have merited such discipline. Needless to say, corporal punishment hasn’t been necessary, beyond a smack on the wrist when they were very small to discourage them from reaching out to hot stoves and the like. Maybe we’ve just been lucky, but I think it has a lot to do with the way she loves the kids. I grew up thinking of love as a way someone feels about someone else, or perhaps a level of desire for their well being. But for my wife, it seems to be more of a transitive verb; it’s something she does to them and for them.

I’m not sure words are capable of articulating such things clearly. It never ceases to astound me how much meaning people expect to be able to encapsulate and communicate through a string of multi-syllabic utterances. But I think the way my wife loves the kids has something to do with being constantly mindful of what they are experiencing and feeling. It involves a lot of listening and frequent/constant interaction and providing them a consistently calm and comforting presence in which to express themselves. They do learn about actions and consequences in the process, not because we’re laying out a structured list for them, but because she is gently guiding them as they encounter the consequences of their actions in their daily lives.

Returning to the intended theme of this post, I suppose some of that parenting magic may be a part of her Latino culture. She would certainly give a lot of credit to her faith as well. My wife’s own close connections with her sisters and their families have provided another benefit for my kids which I lacked, which is a sense of a broader yet still closely-knit extended family. I would speculate these benefits aren’t necessarily more prevalent in Latino culture as opposed to other cultures in the world, but perhaps that they are less prevalent in American culture today. Perhaps most other cultures are just a generation or two behind the USA on the path to cultural destruction. For my part, it has been some comfort to step back from the cliff a bit and at least get to see my kids experience some values of an older culture which perhaps we have been losing sight of in ours.

Top 10 Latin Dishes of All Time

Top 10 Latin Dishes of All Time

José-Andrés Alegría

I am not going to lie. When I thought of this idea, I was so excited. My initial thought was, “I get to write about the greatest food of all time.” But as I sit here writing, the pressure of not messing this up is getting to me. To think that I, a mere human, could list the top 10 Latin dishes of all time was prideful at best. No matter how perfectly executed this list is, there will be some people who do not agree with me. But I need to get out ahead of this and define what I mean by dishes. If this list were top 10 foods, then unarguably number 1 would be white rice with plátano maduros (sweet plantains) being a close second. If we are honest, that list would be incredibly dull, so what do I mean by “Latin Dish?” I couldn’t think of a definitive answer until I was joking around with my little sister. A Latin dish is something that you would be willing to Postmates or Uber Eats to your house. You aren’t going to Postmates just white rice and nothing else. You might get a side of beans and some chicken; now we have arroz con habichuelas y pollo asado, a Latin dish. So without further ado. Here is the list you will either love or hate.

Top 10 Latin Dishes

1. Empanadas

Empanadas are the undisputed first seed. Every country has some version of it. Whether made with flour or maize, empanadas truly are the best. Who doesn’t like a flaky pastry that’s filled with whatever your heart desires? Beef, chicken, ham and cheese, just cheese, or whatever else you are brave enough to put in there. You can’t go wrong. When someone hands you an empanada, your gut reaction is to ask. “What’s in there?” It’s like Christmas morning when you finally get to open your presents.

2. Arroz con pollo

Arroz con pollo is a staple in any Latin household. Have a big group to feed and not that much chicken? Mix it into some rice and boom. Dinner for 10. If someone is handing you a plate of arroz con pollo, I guarantee that you are smiling from ear to ear.

3. Tacos

Who doesn’t love tacos? The only real hate for tacos is if you’re team ‘hard shell’ and someone hands you a taco in a tortilla. Outside of that, if anyone ever says that they hate tacos, you need to take a step back and reexamine your friendship with them.

4. Ropa Vieja

It pains me to say that our very own Isabel Miranda (graphic designer here at Family Bridges) didn’t know what Ropa Vieja was. But then I began to realize that she is not to blame. It is the lack of Cuban food here in Chicago that is the issue. I mean, most of the people I work with don’t even know what Cuban bread is, and that is the real travesty. For those that don’t know, Ropa Vieja is divinely seasoned and shredded beef, usually served over a bed of white rice.

5. Lomo saltado

Steak and potatoes reimagined into steak, and french fries with onions and peppers mixed in and all laid down on top of a bed of rice. The fries and the rice soak up the salty juice from the steak and explodes into the most beautiful bite. I’m just going to go ahead and say it. Peruvians have the best food.

6. Tamales

If empanadas are like Christmas presents, then tamales are like birthday presents. There is a sense of excitement, but not as much. You generally know what is in a tamale. That doesn’t take away from how amazing they are, but there is less of a wow factor. But a perfect tamale can be life-affirming.

7. Sancocho

The quintessential soup across the board. Everyone has their version of sancocho. Sancocho shows the ingenuity of Latinos. What might be considered as scraps by others is thrown into a pot with some broth, seasoned, and loved the right way. The smell is intoxicating. And when you finally pour yourself a bowl and bring the first spoonful to your lips, nothing can compare.

8. Arepas

One of the greatest forms of dough ever invented. Other cultures have pretzels or sourdough bread, but we have the beauty of arepas. And like empanadas, you can put anything into it. Want avocado toast? Try it in an arepa. Or maybe an egg with some cheese. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

9. Mofongo

The dilemma of breaking my own rules. I want to put plátano maduros on this list because they are a source of life for my Dominican-self, but it seems to break the rules I have laid out on what constitutes a dish. So this is my substitute. That is not to say that Mofongo plays second fiddle. If you ever want to gain 5 pounds in one sitting, then eat Mofongo. But isn’t that the beauty of a ball of fried plátano with meat mixed into it? (Side note: while doing “research” for this list I found something disturbing. If you search plátano, Google will ask if you meant ‘cooking banana’ and frankly, that’s just disrespectful to one of the greatest foods of all time.)

10. Arroz Chaufa

My two favorites are Asian and Latin food. You can ask me which one is better and you will get a different answer depending on the day. So the fact that Arroz Chaufa draws inspiration from both is beautiful. Fried rice made by a Latino? What could go wrong? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

Honorable mentions:

Cuban Sandwich – This sandwich is so good that there is a whole Jon Favreau movie (Chef) about making a perfect Cuban sandwich.
Mangu – What’s better than mashed potatoes? Mashed plantains and if you give it to me with los tres golpes (fried egg, fried cheese & fried salami). I might ask you to marry me.
Jibaritos – I think I have established that I love plátano and I love sandwiches, so combining the 2 of them is like a dream come true.
Huevos rancheros – This is one of the few dishes my dad can make. Huevos rancheros and his arroz con leche are top-notch. I can honestly live off of beans, eggs, tortilla, and salsa.
Alfajores – Although technically not a dish, these cookies are the best. And I have absolutely gotten them delivered to my house one or…20 times.

Some people are probably mad that their favorite dish didn’t make it on this list. Others disagree with my list entirely, but I urge you that if you have not eaten any of these dishes, go out right now and make your life a little better one bite at a time. Trust me on this one; I live to eat.

Two Worlds, One Family: Raising Children to be Culturally Aware of Who They Are

Two Worlds, One Family: Raising Children to be Culturally Aware of Who They Are

Juvy Radford

Before we got married, my husband and I were aware of our differences. I don’t remember us having in-depth conversations about what our cultural backgrounds would mean when raising children. You see, I’m Filipino American and what some might refer to as a “1.5 generation immigrant.” At the age of four, I left my native country, the Philippines, and joined my parents, who had immigrated to the U.S. before me. The first few years meant adapting to a different culture and learning English. My husband, on the other hand, was born and raised in Chicago and part of several generations of African Americans. (A man for all seasons, I would say, but his story would be a blog in itself.) What attracted me, besides his deep spiritual roots, was his thoughtfulness and courage. When we realized we desired a future together, he asked me what I thought needed to happen next (i.e., what was acceptable in my culture). Well, this led him to visit my family in California and ask my dad for permission to marry me one day.

A little over a year into our marriage, we were blessed to have our daughter Zoe, followed by our son Emmanuel almost six years later. Like most parents, we soon found ourselves busy (and sometimes overwhelmed) with the responsibilities and demands of work, school, and day-to-day household chores. We could not ignore the fact that because of our children’s bicultural makeup, it would be an essential part of their identity. Knowing things about both the cultures of their parents is a part of who they are. Amidst other competing priorities, how do we raise our children to be culturally aware of their roots?
We have come to realize that we do not need to wait for formal training or a how-to book on how to teach our children something about their bicultural origins. We take advantage of opportunities to raise our children to be culturally aware. Opportunities that come through ordinary happenings. We try to recognize and seize those moments. Allow me to share some ideas. Whether you come from a single culture or you are a cultural blend of many, perhaps some of these might resonate with you.


When my husband discovered that Filipinos sometimes have dishes containing multiple starches, it shocked him. “What?! A dish with rice and potatoes?” he’d exclaim. “Sure, why not?” I’d reply. Growing up, I could eat spaghetti with rice at the same time. Or, for a more authentic Filipino dish, it might be pancit (a rice noodle dish) with rice on the side. (You guessed it. Rice is a staple to Filipino cuisine.) My husband, however, grew up learning to eat just one starch at a time. Nonetheless, he just grinned and tried to enjoy it anyway. Just last month we visited a Filipino mega-store/supermarket and enjoyed some dishes from my culture. And this past weekend, we celebrated the birthday of a relative on my husband’s side of the family and had some delicious soul food. Throughout the years, our children have had a taste of both worlds. This experience has opened doors for us to connect with our cultures and share with them our experiences growing up as African American and Filipino American. We make an effort to identify our various ethnic foods when we serve it to our children. As the hunger for more food wets their appetites, it also increases their curiosity to know more about their cultures.


From my husband’s African roots come a dashiki shirt and a kufi cap. Which he has worn and which the kids have seen worn by other African Americans at our church. From this, we have had conversations about the varied African countries and even about the painful history of African Americans through slavery.
From my Filipino roots comes the barong tagalog, an embroidered shirt for men that is common attire in the Filipino culture and influenced by the Spanish colonial era. My husband does not have a barong Tagalog yet, but he has a shirt with a similar look. It also resembles the guayabera shirt that is popular in Latin American communities. This coincidence is not too surprising, given the Spanish influence in the Philippines. Not long ago, my daughter received a package from my sister containing clothing with the word pinay, which means a woman of Filipino origins. This package sparked a conversation about Tagalog (the Filipino language) and how similar it is to Spanish.
Clothing can serve as a segway to interesting conversations and a part of raising children to be culturally aware of who they are. In our situation, it may reveal a connection to other cultures and even a painful past. Regardless, teaching moments have begun with some clothing, and the conversations still have not worn thin.


Family plays a huge role in raising children to be culturally aware of who they are. Our children have been blessed to enjoy the company of family from both our cultures. My mother-in-law passed away a few years ago. Luckily, our children were fortunate to spend time with her when we visited “Grandmommy” on the south side of Chicago. The children heard stories of her experiences growing up as the eldest of nine, and they learned more about their African American roots through family pictures. Our children have also enjoyed the company of their Filipino grandparents, my parents, who they call “Lolo” (Grandpa) and “Lola” (Grandma), making almost yearly visits to them in California. Not long ago, we explored the island of Maui together, which also led to talking about our cultural roots. Some have lost the old-fashioned idea that families marry families. In our case, it still holds. Families, on both sides, have been an important part of raising our children and have strengthened their bicultural identity.

There is still so much more to share, but I’ll leave you with this quote from an unknown source: “The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people.” What are your thoughts about raising children to be culturally aware of who they are? I’d love to hear your comments!

Backyard Science

Backyard Science

José-Andrés Alegría

Learning isn’t something that only happens in school. I talked a lot about failure in one of my past blogs, but along with failure is learning. Striving to learn helps you grow as a person. When someone is usually talking about learning, their minds tend to think of school. Learning is much more than finding out what the quadratic formula is or what DNA means (Deoxyribonucleic acid. Thanks, Mr. Sankey.) That’s the only science fact I remember from my three years in middle school. But learning is so much more than school. Figuring out how to do basic house repairs (none of which I can do) is a way of learning. Instilling into your kids the thirst for knowledge is setting them up for success in life. No one will have to sit them down and teach them how to do something. They will go and figure it out themselves. And it is your job as a parent to encourage that kind of extra-curricular learning.

Here are a few ideas you can do to help encourage learning outside of the classroom.

Making Homemade Bouncy Balls


1 Tb of Borax
½ Cup of Warm Water
1 Tb of Cornstarch
2 Tb of White Glue
Food Coloring
2 Plastic Cups
1 Plastic Bag


1.) In a cup, mix the Borax and warm water.

2.) In a different cup, mix the glue, cornstarch, and food coloring.

3.) Add the glue mixture to the water.

4.) The glue should begin to harden after 8-10 seconds. Use a plastic fork or spoon for fishing it out of the water.

5.) Start Rolling the mixture into a ball. The more you roll the ball, the harder it will get. When done, store the ball in a plastic bag, so it does not dry out.

Making bouncy balls is just a fun experiment that lets the kids get their hands dirty, but not make too big of a mess. If you lay a trash bag on the workspace, then all you have to do is gather it all up and throw out whatever is plastic and wash off whatever isn’t. And now your kid knows how to make bouncy balls. They can brag to all of their friends about their new collection.

Building a Marshmallow Spaghetti Bridge

Building a spaghetti bridge is a fun and time-consuming activity that helps teach kids to critically think while also planning ahead for any mishaps that may occur. Also, there is something unique about making something that isn’t a necklace out of pasta. Plus, it’s inexpensive with minimal mess.


A Box of Pasta (Spaghetti or anything like it)
A Bag of Marshmallows (I prefer the mini marshmallows)
A Marker


1.) Sit down with your kids at a computer and look up some pictures of simple bridge layouts, something that shows the basic shapes of bridges. Find one that they want to build.

2.) Once you decide on a design, it’s time to start measuring how many pieces of spaghetti you are going to need and measuring them out.

3.) I always like to start with the base of the bridge and build on it. Use the spaghetti as your beams for building the bridge, and the marshmallows as the joints to hold it all together.

4.) Now run wild with it. But be careful, you don’t want to have any of the spaghetti snap mid-construction.

5.) After the construction is all done, test it. See how much weight your bridge can hold. I recommend using pennies as your weights. If the bridge breaks, then ask yourself where did it break and how can we make it better?

I love this project because it teaches so much more than “bridges.” It takes careful planning, critical thinking, and a lot of patience to build. And when it’s all said and done, you will have made something with your kid that they will be proud to show off.

Making a Story Book

Kids love to tell stories, but if we are honest with ourselves, they aren’t always great at telling them. So help them write a story. Learning to layout and organize your thoughts into a cohesive and articulate idea is a skill way too few have nowadays.

Things you need:


Stuff to color with (crayons, markers, colored pencils)
3 hole punch
A Binder or folder


1.) Ask your kids if they want to write fiction or nonfiction and help brainstorm all the different ideas they could write

2.) Help them outline their ideas into an order that makes sense

3.) Have them write out their story (and if you are making a picture book with them, then tell them not to draw anything yet.)

4.) Go over their story with them and help fix plot holes in their story. Be their editor. (Editor only, do not author the story.)

5.) Now that they have a fully cohesive story have them draw it out.

6.) Put it in a binder or folder so that it is all together and can be read as a book.

Teaching isn’t just the sole responsibility of a teacher. And learning doesn’t have to be some annoying thing your kids hate. It can be a fun activity that excites and stimulates the brain. The best learning happens when you don’t realize that you are being taught something until it’s all said and done.

From Procrastination to Emotion Regulation

From Procrastination to Emotion Regulation

Back-to-school season is upon us, and with it, all of the exhilaration, nerves, and busyness of a brand new school year. But if you’re a student, it isn’t long before the hype of a new school year starts to dwindle, and you begin to see the reality of a long-hard year of homework. If you’re anything like me, that means getting overwhelmed, burying your head in the sand, and praying that your work gets done without you. But if that doesn’t work, you figure you can get it done tomorrow, right? Sound familiar? If you can’t seem to kick your nasty habit of procrastination, here are some tips to help you on your journey of growth. Just kidding, the journey starts now.

Recognize the root of the problem

At its core, procrastination isn’t about being lazy, or a lack of discipline, or whatever other lies that crept into your head. We procrastinate because, for a variety of reasons, we haven’t developed the most effective ways to manage the powerful negative emotions associated with specific tasks. Thus, when faced with the anxiety and stress triggered by, say a daunting assignment, we cope by avoiding the event that triggers the anxiety (i.e., the assignment) rather than addressing the anxiety itself. In other words, procrastination is about emotion regulation. Understanding this is a pivotal first step toward initiating self-change because it helps us to zero in on the root problem and develop an appropriate action plan to address it.

Follow the trail of your negative emotions back to the thoughts and beliefs that caused them.

This discipline takes practice, and it requires that you give yourself both the physical and mental space identify what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. So, the second that the thought of avoiding a task pops into your head practice letting in. Don’t drown out the anxiety with Netflix, social media, or any other distraction. Instead, go for a jog to clear your mind. Write in a journal. Do whatever you need to do to give yourself the space to think it through. Ask yourself, “what is it about doing this thing that’s making me want to put it off?” Are you worried that you won’t do a good job? Does the thought of spending that much time on a task or assignment seems daunting? Is the task itself something you find inherently unpleasant? Do you have unrealistically high standards for yourself and avoid doing things that you can’t do perfectly? Don’t worry about solving anything in this step. Just try to understand why you feel the way you do.

Take baby steps

Once you’ve figured out why you’ve been procrastinating, replace those negative thoughts with positive ones. Give yourself a pep talk! Remind yourself of the times that you’ve faced similarly tough challenges and have overcome them. Acknowledge your anxieties but don’t allow them to rule the day. Remember that the only way to “eat an elephant” is one bite at a time. Take baby steps toward completing the task or assignment by breaking it up into smaller subtasks. Make a checklist of subtasks to be completed and cross them off as you work to remind yourself that you’re making progress. Start with easier assignments to gain confidence as you go. Trick yourself into overcoming that initial hurdle of beginning an assignment by giving yourself a time limit that feels manageable to you. For example, tell yourself you’re going to work on a project for only 30 minutes. At the end of the 30 minutes, you’ll likely find that the assignment wasn’t so bad after all and want to continue.

Practice self-compassion

Once you’ve followed all of these steps, and even before, give yourself some compassion. Recognize that overcoming deeply ingrained habits like procrastination takes time and you will make mistakes along the way. Treat yourself with the same grace and understanding that you would a dear friend. Challenge yourself, but remember that hiccups are inevitable. When you find yourself falling into old habits, recognize it, dust yourself off, and try again without giving in to the temptation to self-criticize.

And just like that, you’ll find yourself taking the necessary steps to overcome procrastination. Before you know it, tackling assignments right away will become second nature to you. The journey from procrastination to regulation is a tough one, but it’s far from impossible. So why wait? The time to start tackling procrastination is now. You can do it!


My First Week of College

My First Week of College

José-Andrés Alegría

Welcome to college, please leave any sanity in the overhead bin or underneath the seat in front of you. Thank you.

Having just graduated from college and thinking back on all the sleepless nights, I am having a hard time remembering what my first week of school was like, so bear with me. What I do remember vividly is even before the first day, the biggest most impactful event happens.
Your parents bring you to a place, and they never come to pick you up ever again. It’s kind of like a tweet that said: “At some point in your childhood you and your friends went outside to play one last time, but you never knew it.” It’s something that goes unnoticed at first but eventually creeps up on you. You are now in charge of everything you do. Which if I am honest, is both freeing and terrifying. The first taste of unadulterated independence. It is truly a sink or swim moment.

Day 1:

You wake up and are both excited and, maybe, a little nervous. I remember I had scouted out what classrooms I needed to go to the day before classes started, so I wasn’t wandering around campus. Nobody wants to be the person who walks into class late on the first day. Growing up, my mom would always say, “being on time is late,” so thanks to her, I have a crippling fear of being late. I will show up 20 minutes early to wherever I need to be; otherwise, my blood pressure will spike.

Day 2:

You made it through your first day. Congrats! It only gets harder. The key to making it through your first semester without drowning in work is to get organized. Plan out your homework. Organizing is always the easiest to do right when school starts, and you are still lying to yourself about being the best student in the world. (I may have skipped way more classes than I should have been allowed. Also, mom if you’re reading this, I attended every class. Me skipping class was just a joke.) During my first few days, I planned out my whole
semester. The professors give you all the work you are going to do so I just put it all into my calendar and prayed to God Almighty that Lazy Jose would stick to the schedule that Responsible Jose made. It was a long shot that never panned out. I tried.

Day 3:

It’s only been three days, so how in the world did your sleep schedule get
messed up already? Keeping regular sleeping hours was the hardest part of college. Living with friends was both the coolest thing but was also super detrimental to my sleep. We would have 3AM conversations about anything and everything. I had a guitar amp in the living room of our apartment where we would listen to some music and talk about what superpowers we wanted
and why what the others chose was wrong and stupid. (P.S. teleportation is the most useful power ever. Trust me; we spent more time on this than I’d like to admit.)

Day 4:

Has the hunger finally hit? Or have you been overeating? Either way, food is probably the second biggest struggle when I moved out. You either forget to eat because you get so caught up in forming a social life and all the events happening on campus, OR you don’t know how to eat normally. If you have a meal plan, it can help take away the stress of making time to cook, but it also is usually all-you-can-eat so…control yourself. I never had a meal plan. I’d rather just “intermittently fast” than eat dining hall food. Plus, I lived off-campus so I had a
kitchen where I could cook my meals. Lesson 1 and the most crucial lesson of cooking for one person: Whatever amount of food you think you need to prepare, cut it in half.

Day 5:

Making friends is key to surviving college. Now, I am not the best expert on this as I only really made one new friend in college. Everyone else I knew from high school. So I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t have to try and make new friends. (If you can’t tell, I’m an introvert.) But you don’t need 1,000 friends you only need five really good ones. People that when your car breaks down, or printer isn’t working will help you any way they can. A true friend is willing to wait until 10 PM to go to Ale House with you for $5 Appetizers. You’re going to need those friends to help keep you sane when you’re up a 2 AM studying for a test you’ve known about for weeks but were too lazy to do anything about it. (I made it a whole three days before Lazy Jose decided to show up).

Day 6:

The existential dread of mommy and daddy not being there finally hits. You’re tired. You’re broke. And most of all, you’re hungry for a home-cooked meal. So what do you do? You lie to yourself and say everything is okay. You try to distract yourself by doing your homework, but you don’t want to do it, so you put it off for tomorrow. You eat cereal out of an old butter container with a spork because it is the only thing you own resembling silverware. All while you binge the Work-Place Sitcom Trifecta of Brooklyn 99, Parks and Rec., and The Office.
You tell yourself that you’ll be in bed for an hour or 2. You earned it, right? Welp, next thing you know, you wake up at 1 AM from a nap you don’t remember taking.

Day 7:

The seventh day is legendary for being known as the day of rest. But you slacked off all day yesterday, and now you have three papers, one quiz, and five homework assignments due at midnight. Oh, you also have a test tomorrow so better get studying. Welcome to the trenches, soldier. Hopefully, you made a friend or 2 so you can suffer together. A Band of Brothers (or sisters, it’s 2019) in the trenches fighting the good fight. The first week is always the easiest. It’s easy to get lazy. It’s easy to stay up late. It’s easy to let the freedom go to your head. The first week is easy, but it’s the week that you need to buckle down and form good healthy habits that will last long into the future. Otherwise, you will make college way harder than it has to be. Lord knows I did. Keep your head up, let the
punches roll off you, and keep grinding away. Whatever work you put in will be rewarded later down. Look at me, my first job out of college, and I get paid to write.

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Twitter: @No_Way_Jose11