Friday, April 22, 2011

Sometimes a lost culture

This summer taught me a few things. Including what it means to love without boundaries. To trust people completely without fear. And based on my background, both as a refugee to the United States and from living in cities for my entire life, this was a really breath taking experience.

On our first day in Huixcazdha, we met a woman with a face that had wrinkles carved into it from smiles that reached all the way across her face and years of telling people the truth about what it meant to be loved by her and to live with her taking care of you for every moment that she was with you. Everything with cariño. She had a mind of her own and was sharp as a tack, though she had very little if any schooling. But life was led with ganas. Everything, from picking the figs from her trees to bringing us her salsas and frijoles and tortillas was done with love that curled off the top of her heated dishes and into your heart. You could not help but love Doña Pau. No one could.

She would come and hug you deep into her chest until you were swallowed by the warm of her voice, clucking and telling you to come and asking you where you had been that morning. She would tell you honestly, no tenemos mucho, pero estamos feliz. And while this came with a sadness that clung from one corner of her cheek but a glow through her eyes. Life is not easy, and she more than others knew it. As her family spent their days in the milpa, pushing old iron blades through dry earth, hitting rocks again and again and bringing life through green into their worlds, you knew she was right there with them. Each line in the earth another line on their faces. Each line in the earth, another son sent to the United States, to send readmittances to a family that they swore they would never forget and as the years go on and the distance grows you see time slowly pulling at the bonds that made their struggles her struggles.

Love. Warmth. Sadness. And Chile.

So much Chile. When you asked Doña Pau to make it spicy, she would make salsas that made you sit there and sweat. Agony and ecstasy. But doesn’t this explain how Mexican culture works? In pain and suffering, there is beauty and joy through another sort of experience. In knowing that you are alive. And knowing that there is something else through all of this and feeling cleansed in that moment of burning. Burning.

Doña Pau showed me what it meant to find beauty in the darkest of days. And at the end of our stay in this magical world, where people loved because it meant living, and everything you have was something more that you could give to those you loved, she felt tragedy. And this tragedy was enough to see the sunlight leave her rounded cheeks. The lines on her face sunk deeper. And it literally melted my heart that I often fear may be made of ice.

How easy it is to forget, when there is distance. As I write this now, I sit with tears streaming down my face and a heartbeat with each thud that makes me both smile from the bitter taste of missing someone so far away in so many ways and knowing that if I went back there tomorrow, Doña Pau would invite me into her house, sit me down and feed me the frijoles and tortillas she made that morning for her family. And she would remind me what it means to be more than I thought I could be.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hosted by La Casa

“Am I Latino enough?” Voices rang out from each part of the room in response, each one echoing this experience of becoming more Latino after leaving his or her home community to come to Yale. “Am I Latino enough?” My own voice stayed silent. I had walked in with so much confidence that I was Latino that the whole concept of the event made me giggle on the inside. Yet, I walked out those same doors slightly confused. It hadn’t occurred to me before then that, upon leaving home in the South Bay of San Diego, a predominantly Mexican community, to others I had become less Latino.

I’m not sure if I was the only one in the room to feel that way, but in the spirit of false uniqueness, I assumed that was the case. I decided not to speak up, choosing instead to imagine a conversation in my head where I boldly contested the ubiquity of the issue and sparked a more heated conversation about what it really meant to be Latino. Instead, I let the idea slowly cook in my head, and I think it’s time to pop it out of the oven right about now.

My experience upon arriving at Yale seemed to be one of becoming less Latino. I remember as vividly as human memory allows that exact moment my sophomore year, while working at the Intergroup Relations and Development Lab, that I (to my own surprise) surprised the graduate student I was working with by telling her of my Mexican-American background. “I didn’t know you were Latino! You don’t really look it.”


Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It wasn’t the first time I had run into this kind of statement back home, but back home it was so much less bothersome. At a school where the majority of students were either Mexican-American or Filipino, I had gotten “Asian” a lot. But I always brushed it off. I wasn’t “Asian.” I am pretty damn Mexican, thank you. I like my tortillas, I won’t eat anything without hot sauce on it, and it goes lime, salt, tequila for me.

Granted, that’s talking about behaviors and preferences. Fine, let’s talk about appearances. Did I look Latino? Well, first of all, what does it mean to look Latino? And if you come down the rabbit hole I’m trying to take you down (please do), I want to ask you, do you know what it means to look Latino in San Diego? Because for me, it meant a variety of things. It meant going to the local hardcore shows with my straightened hair, where the majority of the scene kids were Mexican-American. It meant severeal hours of headbanging at local metal shows where the majority of the all-black-wearing metalheads I was with were Mexican-American. And it meant looking like a fool while I tried my damn hardest to ollie even one inch off the ground at a skate park where most of the sk8r bois were Mexican-American.

So after I came to Yale, I was pretty surprised to find out I hadn’t been an easily identified Latino. Just like back home, I assumed everyone just knew. And because you just knew, you could move on towards constructing other parts of your identity. So that’s why I assumed everyone would just understand why I said that the dining hall enchiladas didn’t enchilarme enough.


Yet, just short of having a full blown cultural-anxiety-induced identity crisis (I have enough anxiety issues for now), the event helped me to re-affirm my identity. “Am I Latino enough?” I’m sorry for bringing that up again, but it needs to be there so I can mention that I’ve realized that the voice in those quotes was never really my own. Though the event provoked a few considerations about what it meant to be Latino and how one would “become” Latino, I realized that I’ve been Latino all along. I think most of the other voices in that room would agree. Because no matter if you don’t look it, act it, eat it, speak it, or dance it, I’ve realized that those same things I’ve mentioned have, for some odd reason, become the implicit standard for what it means to be Latino. And despite the fact that I don’t look it, act it, or dance it, I am Latino.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reclaiming My Names

When I moved here it meant making a few changes. I had to learn English. I was no longer going to eat lunch at 3 pm with my family when I came home from school, because now we had a 20-minute lunch period in the middle of the school day. Cheetos no longer had spicy pepper on them, and candy was suddenly sweet. But it also meant that my name was suddenly very different from what I was used to.

“Is die-ann-uh En-ree-qw-ez here?”

When I was six years old, I rejected it. I told people that I met here that my name was die-ann-uh, and because I have several last names, people often thought that my middle name was Enriquez and my last name was Schneider. I became Die-ann-uh Schneider. It used to offend my mother, and one day she asked me what I told people that my name was die-ann-uh. I told her that it was my name here. I wasn’t Diana anymore.

And so the battles went through the years. As my English and understanding of American culture improved, my name went from Diana Enriquez Schneider, as it was on my school documents to just Diana Enriquez, and eventually just Enriquez, which was all that I wrote on tests and papers by the end of my high school career. So where did Schneider go?
I get a lot of, “Diana, what an interesting pronunciation…” This is followed, most often by questions like: Where is your family from? How do you spell that? And here at Yale: What is your ethnic background? But you don’t look Mexican… I know. Yes, I am white. Yes, I am also Mexican. And yes, there are people who look like me “where I come from.” I picked it because Enriquez speaks for itself. It was the one thing that was clear and defined, not ambiguous about its background, and while it was often cut to pieces in English, it was clear and straightforward, and people didn’t have as many variations of it (though I was once called “uhn-rih-qwezzt”). So I liked it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my name. Diana in all of its pronunciations, from dee-ah-nah (a much softer sound, slipped out of your mouth and left to float in the air), dee-aw-nuh (the more east coast American accent, a little more rough and solid but easily heard in a crowd), the joking dee-jaaa-nah (coined by a friend, who (jokingly) told his mother once that I would “cut her if she called me die-ann-uh), or the familiar d’yah-nah (the pronunciation of my name in the state that my family comes from in Mexico, it becomes reduced to 2 syllables). It’s all become a part of me, because it explains so much about what I have become.

I cant pretend that I am one thing. No matter how much I want to be just Mexican, I’m not. And part of that was accepting that Diana will always have several pronunciations. With this realization it became time for me to invite Schneider back into my life. In my time back in Mexico this past year, it was easy to have it back in the picture, except now Schneider was the verbal barrier to saying my name and Diana Enriquez was nothing out of the ordinary. Back in the U.S. there were new questions about my identity and my last name: is Enriquez your middle name? What is Schneider? But we’re all here to stay, my friends. I have set out to reclaim my names to the fullest. Though it means I will never fit nicely into a category, and both cultures of my family will always have trouble with part, if not all, of my name, I think I like being a little out of the ordinary.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Defending Birthright Citizenship: YDN

Enriquez: Defending birth right citizenship

The recent elections have been a cause of concern for me and many of those close to me. This apprehension is not specifically related to the question of who will steer our government for the next couple years, but rather the growing rhetoric in favor of repealing birthright citizenship. Even here at Yale, I have spoken to people with ethnic backgrounds similar to mine who are not opposed to limiting citizenship to those whose parents are also citizens. As such, I would like to present a frank and first-hand look at the issue.

I am bi-racial, and with that comes the luxury of having an American mother. I left Mexico under complicated circumstances as a child, and we arrived in the United States hoping we would soon return. The political climate of Mexico made it such that we could not, but unlike most people who flee their countries to escape violence, my brother and I did not have trouble obtaining paperwork to live in this country. I grew up in a Mexican household, but I went to school in an American society.

Compare my case to that of a friend of mine, whom I met while I was working as a translator at a legal office in Cambridge, Mass. She was born in Cambridge, but to El Salvadorean parents who fled their country in the 1980s during a period of civil war. She speaks broken Spanish, listens to American pop music and has never been to El Salvador. She considers herself American and wants to be a teacher. Her parents both work very hard, but they have trouble finding jobs because of their legal status. It means that work comes and goes with the seasons, and they sometimes work a few temporary jobs or nothing at all. They speak English at home, for their children, and have very limited contact with El Salvador themselves.

The repeal of birthright citizenship would mean that people like my friend could be deported to a country to which they feel no allegiance beyond a few romanticized stories shared by relatives. She does not speak the language, she has very little idea of how the government works or what rights she would have as a citizen of El Salvador, and she calls herself a proud American. She knows more about the American legal systems than most Americans do. She scored a 5 on the AP English Language exam and will continually work while she studies in order to help support her parents. She is someone who celebrates American culture and actively contributes to society. Is this not the kind of citizen that the United States honors and promotes?

I would not say that having an American mother made me any more American than this friend, and yet I am blessed with the security of legal status. We are shaped by the societies that we are exposed to, and more often than not that is where our allegiance lies. Loyal American citizens are born here every year to undocumented or immigrant parents, but they, too, embrace the culture of this country and stand willing to serve in our work force, our military, our schools and our communities. Political rhetoric that uses terms like “anchor babies” only serves to promote hatred of people who left their homes for reasons similar to my own. So yes, many do leave their homelands to provide their children with a better tomorrow, but many of these children will grow up with similar experiences to your own. I came to this country as a child, and despite the culture of my household, I have many things in common with the other people who grew up in my neighborhood. This is also true for my friend.

This country is the product of immigrants and we take pride in being a “melting pot” because it allows us to draw ideas from a more diverse and creative group of individuals. Getting rid of birthright citizenship would partially cut off the flow of ideas and people that make this country what it is. We have a nation that was made stronger by the flow of immigrants into this country in the 19th and 20th centuries because they gave back to this nation. I give back to this nation. So do my friends. Politicians call them “anchor babies” and “illegal aliens”; they call themselves Americans.

Diana Enriquez is a sophomore in Saybrook College.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

it's HERE! ECCSF 2011!


It's finally here! After 1 year of planning, it's time for ECCSF at Yale!

Here is a less edited and not francisco-beautified version of the schedule of events for this weekend, beginning tomorrow:

Youth Inherit el Movimiento: Youth Leadership Through Art and Community Organizing

Feb. 4th - 6th, 2011

Friday, February 4th

6 pm – 11pm Registration in Dwight Hall

Old Campus

8 pm – 10 pm ECCSF Meet and Greet

La Casa Cultural (301 Crown St)

10 pm – 1 am ECCSF Mixer

Pierson Lower Court (261 Park St)

Saturday, February 5th

9:30 am – 11:00 am Early Morning Registration

WLH 113

9:30 am – 10:00 am Breakfast

WLH 112

10:15 am – 10:30 am Introduction: ECCSF Co-Chairs

Sudler Hall

10:30 am – 11:15 am Maceo Montoya “To the Artist, From his Son” Chicano muralist, activist, and instructor of Taller Arte del Nuevo Amanecer

Sudler Hall

11:15 am – 12:00 pm Community Organizing: Activist Panel

Lorella Praeli- CT Students for a DREAM, NYSYLC, Megan Fountain- Local New Haven Community Organizer

Sudler Hall

12:00 pm – 1:00 pm Community Organizing: Breakout Workshops

· “DREAMS Deferred” Workshop – NYSYLC

WLH 116

· “Building your own Movement” – Diana Enriquez, Max Budovitch, Natalia Thompson, Katie Harrison

WLH 113

· “Unidad Latina en Acción” – Megan Fountain, John Lugo

WLH 114

1:00 pm – 2:30 pm Lunch

1:00 pm – 2:00 pm ECCSF Representative Meeting

2:30 pm – 3:00 pm Arts: Youth Groups Panel

Youth Arts Curators at Zumix, Youth Rights Media, Art for Change

LC 102

3:00 pm – 4:00 pm Arts: Breakout Workshops

· Tripod: Musical Performance LC 102

· Art for Change: “Combining Art with Social Justice” Workshop WLH 120

· Youth Rights Media: “Lost in Transition” Documentary Screening WLH 119

4:00 pm – 4:45 pm Juan Enríquez “How to make Hispanics more Powerful” Chairman and CEO of Biotechonomy LLC, fellow at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs

Sudler Hall

4:45 pm – 5:00 pm Closing Remarks: ECCSF Co-Chairs

Sudler Hall

5:00 pm – 7:45 pm Break Time

8:00 pm – 10:00 pm Closing Dinner

Keynote Speaker: Tom Saenz, President and General Counsel of Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF)

African-American Cultural Center (211 Park St)

10:00 pm – 1:00 am ECCSF Mixer

36 Lynwood

10:00 pm – 1:00 am Movie screening

La Casa Cultural (301 Crown St)

Sunday, February 6th

9:00 am – 11:00 am Breakfast and departure

La Casa Cultural (301 Crown St)

Come! Join us!

Love, MEChA