Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mi Vida en Español

I think my first memory of Spanish was my sister complaining about a time when we were very young, when my mother spoke to us only in Spanish. I don't recall the details or how long she kept up with that or to what extent, but it's my first memory of the language ever mattering in my little world. Years later, when my mom met my husband for the first time, I saw that her Spanish was much more impressive than I would have guessed, much more impressive than she would ever admit, and made my sister's far-fetched story that much more believable.

I took the required language classes at Kyrene Middle School. Señor Pulskamp taught me that, "dar means to give." He would say it with such gringo gusto that it is burned into my memories. I can still remember the hand gestures he would make when he said it. When I took Señor Brown's class at Marcos de Niza High School, I learned all about "o, a, as, amos, an," which proved to be helpful when I would finally learn to conjugate verbs 5 years later. I also learned how say that I had to use the restroom, ask where the library was and the true significance of "puto," when a Chicano classmate coughed out the word from the back of the class Sophomore year.

However, I really learned Spanish in Pioneer Park in 2005. At least that's where it really began. I had moved out of my parents house a few years prior but it wasn't until Pioneer Park that I finally lived on my own. Prior to that I had always lived with Chris, and had a financial crutch. This was my first venture into true independence. I was on my own.

On my first night in Pioneer Villas I clogged the toilet. I tend to have that effect on toilets. Of course I didn't have a plunger. Fuck, I didn't even have silverware. Actually, I'm pretty sure all I had was a mattress, some crates I had stole from the back of a Circle K, a box of books, my clothes and an ashtray. Yep. That sounds about right. I paid my rent and deposit on the apartment with my tax return.

So what's a girl to do? I didn't really know anyone in Mesa. An ex-boyfriend a couple miles away. I wasn't about to call him. I was still hurt. Everyone else I knew was in Tempe. I didn't have money to run down to Walmart and buy a plunger. I didn't have the patience to drive back to Tempe. I briefly considered using a hanger or my hand before I decided I would just ask one of my neighbors. Sounded simple enough.

Most of my neighbor's windows were dark but I headed across the hall. I knocked on the door and it was opened by a man in his mid-40's. His face was dark and weathered. He donned a heavily worn Western button-up and faded blue jeans, lightly covered in thin coat of dust. The Hispanic man instantly smiled at me, revealing slightly yellowed teeth, one gold, and a gleam in his eye.

Hi! I just moved upstairs. This is a little embarrassing, but do you have a plunger?

Awkward pause.

I'm so sorry... I didn't mean to interrupt....

Es que... mi no speake English...


Ohhh... Ummm... lo siento! Ummm... baño... muy full. No flush. Tu... understand?

Awkward pause.

Baño no hacer schhh schhh schhhhhh... 

(making cyclone-like motions with my hand)

Awkward pause.

You know... Nevermind. I'm so sorry to bother you. Nevermind...

I ran back to my apartment, completely embarrassed, silently chastising myself for not paying more attention to Señor Brown. My face was buried in my hands when I suddenly remembered that although I didn't have any shampoo, I was pretty sure I had a Spanish to English dictionary in my box of random books. Sure enough, there it was. Stacked right between Betty Crocker's New Cookbook and Anthony de Mello's Song of the Bird. I'm pretty sure it's a stolen dictionary as the sides read "WHS," and who knows where that school is, but whatever. I quickly looked up plunger and ran back downstairs.

I knocked again, with a little bit more confidence behind my fist this time. My neighbor opened the door and that same smile spread across his face again.

¡Guera! ¿Que te pasó?


Laughter burst out of that apartment like thunder. It was only then that I realized there were several other men in the living room. And then that I realized they were all laughing at me. They couldn't stop laughing.

¡La guera tapó su pinche baño guey! ¡Dale el destapador!

They may have been laughing, but that moment is something I still remember to this day. There was something about their laughter that stuck out to me. I didn't feel like they were making fun of me. Their laughter was sympathetic, almost appreciative. And maybe I was just really high, but that thought stuck with me throughout the years. In all of the times when I should have or could have been self-conscious of my shitty language skills, I remember that day and remember not to be embarrassed and to try my damndest.

It's worked out pretty well for me so far.

After moving to Pioneer Park my entire social circle shifted. The park may be across from an impressive Mormon Temple but it's a whole different world my friends. I hung out with Mexican immigrants almost exclusively. Most were from Sinaloa. Los Mochis. Mazatlan. El Fuerte. Choix. They were day laborers during the week, eagerly posted outside of Home Depot or in front of the Circle K on Mesa Drive and Broadway, hoping to earn $50 for a day's worth of landscaping or construction work. But on the weekends? They would order Domino's and watch English movies and make small talk with as many of their gringo neighbors as possible.

I quickly became enamored with their language and culture. It was easily the most exciting time in my life. I was going through a lot at that point and subsequently made some of the most fantastic friends. I will never forget them or that fucking park or the memories we made. I'm not in contact with any of them now. Migrant workers don't really delve into the online world so we haven't been able to stay in touch. But those friendships and all that they entailed led me to meet Ray. And they changed my life forever.

When I met my now husband, I had just broken up with Antonio from Choix and still spoke very broken Spanish. I decided to make a major life change and move 2 miles down Mesa Drive to Mesa Villages. I hadn't yet learned how to conjugate verbs which made conversations with me quite difficult. There were a lot of misunderstandings. I was determined though. I eventually learned how to properly conjugate the verb "estar" and started using "iendo" and "ando" to get through conversations. I didn't know how to say "I ate," (Comí,) so I would say "Estaba comiendo." I couldn't say, "I worked all day," (Trabaje todo el dia,) so I would say, "Estaba trabajando todo el dia." I tiptoed around verbs in this manner for quite some time.

I'm not going to lie, being on drugs played a role in all of this. I was uber focused and had no responsibilities and all the time in the world. I would stay up until dawn writing vocabulary lists and translating songs I heard on 105.9. I would write poetry in Spanish, pressing my pen into the page until it almost broke through the paper. I'm not saying you should give up on Rosetta Stone and pick up a pipe. I'm just saying.

My dictionary and I were attached at the hip. I took it everywhere with me. It was small enough to fit in my purse and to this day it is dog-eared and highlighted and marked up like a college text book. I was determined to be understood by my new group of friends, Gordo included. It was even harder with him. He wasn't that impressed with me and my attempts to speak Spanish so I had to try even more so. Although we connected immediately I also knew immediately that he was different. He wasn't like the rest of the lot.

We began to argue right away, just as we bicker back and forth today. I love to argue but I hated arguing with him then because I felt so misunderstood. And so I began writing him letters in English and then using my dictionary to translate the letters word for word. This was in 2005 but Google Translate was still foreign to me. I could barely afford toothpaste, much less Internet or a computer. I would write these long, dramatic letters to him, talking about some disagreement we had had the day before. Surely he thought I was insane.

But he loved me all the same.

A year or so later I finally stopped using drugs for the last time and began to look for work. I think I saw the ad in the Arizona Republic. It was for a receptionist position. Bilingual a plus, it read. The office was close to the bodega Gordo worked in and since we only had one car, it seemed perfect. I didn't even have a phone at the time but my mom put the last of her hopes in me and my promise of sobriety and set me up with a Cricket phone so I could put a contact number on my application. I fudged a bit during my interview and said I was bilingual. I wasn't quite there yet, so it was quite a risk. But what did I have to lose?

I got the job and once again, my life changed forever.

I instantly felt bad for lying on my application and became newly dedicated to learning Spanish. It was around this time that the novela, "La Fea Más Bella," aired on Univision and the Conceptos set was the perfect place for me to learn Spanish for the workplace. Professional Spanish. I tuned in Monday through Friday, without fail. As I fell in love with Jaime Camil and practically died in the anticipation that lead to Leticia's makeover, I began to really learn Spanish. Verb conjugation and all.

I immersed myself in the language and gave up English television and music for quite some time. I fell in love with El Coyote y Su Banda and skipped the 6 o'clock news on ABC for Noticias Univision. I passed on Dr. Phil and opted for Cristina instead. Slowly but surely, I became "bilingual," for the most part. Finally.

I still don't consider myself to be completely bilingual and know that I have so much to learn. I would guess that I have about a 5th grade vocabulary. Enough to get through life with but not quite enough to completely understand a lawyer or doctor. I have frequent slip ups and there are plenty of words that I continue to confuse, even years later. I say alimendras instead of almendras, cascara instead of cráneo, pulgas instead of pulgadas, condicionacion instead of acondicionador... I really could go on and on.

Some bad habits are hard to break.

Ray is good to me though and rarely laughs at me like I laugh at him when he says things like "peanut botet," (peanut butter.) I aspire to have his understanding and seriousness and much more. Maybe that's why I've been able to learn his language while he still struggles with mine? Maybe my laughter is too much for his ego? I still can't quite figure that out.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Someone recently commented on a Facebook post of mine saying that it's too bad I act like my life in Juarez is an adventure or a movie of the week. Said that I have a safety net in that I can always come back to the US and that no matter what happens I will be safe. They also said that I will never know what it means to live in an oppressed and murderous country. I wonder how long one has to live in an oppressed murderous country to know what it's like to live in an oppressed murderous country?

Like I told this reader, I've woken up to dead bodies on the sidewalk in front of my home. Lost one of our closest family friends to gang violence in Parral. Seen a man shot dead in the chest on the corner by my best friend's apartment. Had to listen to my husband fearfully recall what happened when he was jumped in El Centro for taking a picture of the cathedral. Comfort a close friend after she was forced to listen to a family be murdered in the house behind hers. Listen to our neighbor cry with agony when they found her kidnapped daughters head in a field a mile down the road. And so on and so on. But I choose to look at the good in life, and not dwell on the violence and homicides. I choose to write my blog about the positive aspects of life in Juarez because there's already enough people out there talking about the negatives. Not to mention, laughter is my survival mechanism. Also, I'm well aware that I am beyond blessed to be a US citizen and be able to reap all the benefits that it entails, but if I used the US as my safety net, I wouldn't have left it in the first place. Living apart from my husband is not an option for me.

This discussion was followed by another person saying they agreed with the original comment, and adding a whole new slew of opinions. I was told that his Mexican family members thought my blog was a joke and that my posts are insulting. That I only tell one side of the story and that I make my husband look like a fool and it's an insult to all Mexican men. He didn't forget to put a little cherry on top at the end by saying that my husband "only survives because of the graces of the Super Heroic White Woman," and that Mexican women find my blog infuriating.


I'd direct you back to my Facebook page to witness the plane crash, but some of the comments have been deleted by their authors. I found these comments puzzling, and the second quite offensive. It made me feel as though some people who are reading this blog may be getting the wrong impression. These aren't the first people to give me their opinions or call me out on my blog. And up until now, I didn't mind the criticism. People have told me that I have horrible writing technique. I've been told that I swear too much. I drink too much. I'm a horrible person because my son doesn't live with me. My writing doesn't flow. I should talk more about this. I should talk more about that. Those emails come in on the regular and I don't really let them bother me. However, the idea that I am somehow insulting all of Latin America is something I can't just sit back and shake my head about. I have to defend myself. Actually, I haven't felt so defensive since I wrote 25 Things I Love About My Ham Sandwich.

I'm not really sure where to start in my response to all of this, so I guess I'll start with the statement that I "only tell one side of the story." I know I speak highly of Juarez while the press and cartels tear it shreds. But let's be real. Would me talking about all the gory details day in and day out change anything or benefit anyone? Is there a lack of bad news about Mexico? Would I be shedding light on a situation that no one knows about? There is a reason why I don't share all of the bad things that we've encountered since we moved to Juarez. I have blogged a bit about it here and there, however, my aim has never been to do some sort of expose on the (once) murder capital of the world. If you are looking for something along those lines, go check out Charles Bowden or Judith Torrea. I respect and admire their work, but quite frankly, that's not the story I'm trying to tell.

What I am doing, in case it hasn't been made clear, is trying to survive in my own way. This blog isn't about Juarez. It's not about the drug war or NAFTA or the missing women. It's about love and personal growth and patience and assimilation and appreciation. It should also be said that I am not a spokesperson for Juarez. My life does not represent the life of a typical Juarense. I do not represent Juarez. I am just Emily.

With that being said, I think someone can live in Juarez and not really know what it's like for most of the people here. And maybe that's where I am misunderstood. It's no secret that there are wealthy people in this city, who live in their fresa-Pronaf-club-bubble, and have no clue how the rest of the city suffers. But even that is far fetched because in this drug war, there really are no safe zones. You could live in Campestre or you could live in Anapra, but just a couple short years ago, neither group was safe from the bloodshed. Even united by violence, the city is still divided by social classes. And because of that, and my middle class American upbringing, it would be impossible for me to represent either group. Of course I will never know what it is like to be born outside of the US and to have so many unmet needs, but does that automatically make me entitled or unaware of the bigger picture in life?

Too bad I act as if this is an adventure, a movie of the week.

Yeah that is too bad, isn't it? If only I ran around crying all day and talking about all the tragedies in this country, things would be better. Give me a break. Sometimes I feel like people would prefer me to run around wailing about how horrible life is in Juarez and how I have been dealt a bad hand because I somehow ended up in this "shit hole."  I can't figure out what that would accomplish, but so many people seem to think that's the way I should act. I can't wrap my head around that.

I also can't wrap my head around the fact that people seem to think I've saved my husband or done him some huge favor by marrying him. Heroic white woman? What the fuck? I'd like to think that these people don't actually read my blog. I'd like to think that anyone who has read all the blogs I've written about my husband wouldn't be capable of making such an asinine, flippant remarks. I'd really like to think that. For anyone who hasn't stumbled upon those blogs, let me say it again. Hopefully everyone hears me this time.

"I didn't settle for anyone. My husband is the man of my dreams and I don't deserve him. Even if you considered every good thing I've ever done in my lifetime and ignored the horrible, selfish and inexplicable things, the math just doesn't add up. I am difficult, emotional and overly passionate about irrelevant subjects. I fly off the handle without reason. I drink too much. I have a multi-colored past and am disgustingly indulgent. I am an obsessive addict. Even though I came from a middle class American family, I'm a spoiled brat. Maybe that's because I came from a middle class American family? I have a short temper and am beyond demanding. I'm an uptight, impatient, over-analytical hypocrite. And somehow, regardless of all of that, Mr. Cruz loves me. He adores me. He is proud of me and thoroughly enjoys me as a person. My husband didn't "luck out" to meet me. I am a better person because he has come into my life. For some reason, God put him in my path. This has nothing to do with green cards or money or citizenship. The price of me is much too high for abusers because I am 3 gallons of crazy in a 2 gallon bucket my friends. I'm the lucky one. I'm the one who is hard to love..."

Yet again, as frustrating as those flippant remarks about Ray were, I was most offended by the comment that I insult Latinos and that my blog angers Mexican women. That's really the main reason I felt compelled to write this blog today and address the comments at all. I'm not going to lie, this has consumed my mind all week. I spent far too much time digging through my blog archives and posts on Facebook and Twitter trying to figure out how I had managed to upset an entire race of people. I asked the gentleman twice if he could tell me how exactly this blog infuriates Mexican women but he did not respond. I guess the idea that I was offending an entire group of people that I just spent the last 3 years falling in love with just hit me a little hard. No, really hard.

I think I'm pretty tough when it comes to criticism because I have a lot of defects and I know it. But this was just too much for me. I've been trying to superarlo for most of the week and I think I'm almost there. Some wise words from my Mexican and Mexican-American friends helped immensely and a random email from a first generation Chicana reader who told me she was hooked to my blog and gave me her prayers and support certainly helped as well. So I want to thank those people for their assurance and comforting words. It meant a lot to me.

I guess at the end of the day, we all have to remember that the Internet has this really cool feature you can use if you don't like what you're reading. It's that little X in the upper right hand corner. All you have to do is drag your cursor over that bad boy and click. Magia!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

I Mispronounced Inundación 428 Times This Week

I used to love the rain. Absolutely loved it. Having lived a large portion of my life in Central Arizona, rain was a rarity and something I always looked forward to. However, after getting in a car accident last year in the middle of a storm when I was only driving 30 mph, I am now ridiculously afraid of driving in the rain. Yeah, I'm the asshole doing 40 on the freeway while it's sprinkling.

On Thursday morning I broke down in the car while trying to navigate through the rain as we drove up Hermanos Escobar on our way to work. I was in tears, I couldn't breathe, I had to pull over. It scared the crap out of Gordo, that's for sure. It was the panic attack to end all panic attacks. Our windshield wipers don't work properly, nor do our headlights (only the high beams work) so I think that added to it all. Combining my driving anxiety with car problems while simultaneously trying not to drive into a sinkhole in the dark when it was pouring rain created the perfect storm. Pun intended.

Juarez obviously isn't known for it's rainfall; I think we only average a couple of inches a month during monsoon season. Although other areas get much more rain, the city just isn't equipped for that much water. The few storm drains and reservoirs that exist quickly overflowed into the streets and parks and unfortunately homes and businesses.

To get an idea of what it was like this week in Juarez, check out this video by Marco Antonio Retana.

Driving through flood waters is the scariest experience I've ever had on the road. On Thursday night I was at an event in Las Cruces and didn't get back into Juarez until about 9:30. By that time my neighborhood had become completely inaccessible. I tried all the back alleys and every route I could think of but they all just looked like a raging river with stranded cars here and there. I called my husband in desperation to let him know that I was just going to sleep in the car on higher ground but he insisted that our SUV could make it through one particular street. In my head I kept hearing the message that I'd heard all day on the radio in El Paso: Turn Around, Don't Drown. Gordo said I was just being dramatic and that I needed to man up.

Como las meras meras viejas he said.

So I grabbed my lady balls and drove over to the street he had told me about. I thought he had officially lost his mind because that street looked just as flooded as all of the rest. Then I noticed some men out on their front patio and recognized one of Gordo's friends, Horacio. Good man. I asked him if he'd seen anyone else drive through that street. Pues no, pero tu puedes! No mas quedate cerca a la banqueta derecha!

Alright. Balls to the wall. I stayed to the right, as close to where I assumed the curb to be, because of course, it was covered with water. I briefly recalled the advice given to me earlier in the day from a co-worker. If you can't see the curb, it's too deep to drive through. Well. So much for that. I slowly made my way into the lake, careful not to hit the brake. Gordo had warned me a million times, don't brake. I don't know why and frankly I didn't care to ask. I just wanted to get home. So I drove. Halfway down the street water began to creep into the car and I immediately freaked out. I knew I shouldn't have listened to all these idiots! Turn around, don't drown! That's who I should have listened to!

And so in true Emily style, I panicked and gunned it. Water poured into the car. But guess what? I made it through the lake. I didn't turn around but I certainly didn't drown and by the grace of God, I didn't flood the engine. I came home and cried while Gordo laughed at me and then reprimanded me for being such a baby about all of this. People lost their homes he said. And you're over here crying because you're afraid to drive through a little agua! Word.

You gotta love a man who can put you in your place.

The lake in front of our house that Gordo fondly referred to as Lago Cruz...

Only my husband would take the dogs for a walk in this weather!

Lucy fell in the lake... Meeko to the rescue!

Things got bad in parts of El Paso too. Thankfully the police stepped in and roped off some areas.
Notice the Spanish caution tape.... in El Paso. You won't be seeing that on The Bridge...

It finally stopped raining and the waters have receded. Things are starting to get back to normal. Thankfully, there is only a 30% chance of rain for the next couple of days. I am lucky enough to say that the water never reached our front door, but I wish I could say the same for everyone else in Juarez, and in Colorado for that matter. My heart goes out to those who lost their belongings or have been displaced from their homes. 

My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

My Thoughts on FX's The Bridge

I didn't want to watch it. I really didn't. Some writers and Borderland Natives had warned me it was complete garbage but I just had to smell the trash myself. People kept asking me if I'd seen it and what I thought of it and I was tired of saying, "We don't get FX in Juarez." Which is good because I later found out that you can get FX in Juarez, it's just not included in the measly 379 peso cable package that I am able to spring for. Shocker. So I moseyed on over to Amazon Prime to purchase an episode. Because I am alarmingly intelligent and tech-savvy I first purchased episode 7. As someone pointed out on my Facebook page, a 7 does look very similar to a 1 so I'm just going to take that excuse and run with it.

So there I was $4.30 later... not really getting off to a good start, but I was trying to keep an open mind. I'm not really sure where to start. There is so much say. I suppose we can start with all the white cops in cowboy hats with East Texas accents. Someone must have failed to mention to the casting directors that the majority of people in El Paso don't speak with a Southern drawl. Newsflash to anyone who isn't familiar with the city, El Paso is over 80% Hispanic and that lends a hand to the diverse culture and general feel of the city itself, not to mention the accent. It may be in Texas but it's not the Wild West, and I wouldn't confuse the everyday Joe in El Paso with Wyatt Earp. Come on people!

With that being said, you could see why I was a little surprised that everyone on the El Paso side of this show was white. Not just the police officers but the criminals, the medical examiner, the CBP agent... Oh wait, I'm sorry, there was Kitty Conchas. She was Hispanic. She says she was born and raised in El Paso and doesn't speak a word of Spanish. She almost said it like, I was born in El Paso, not Juarez you dip shit. It was as if they are two different worlds instead of what they really are. One. This is when it became abundantly clear to me that the directors and screen play writers and actors really have no clue what life is like here and how connected the communities in El Paso and Juarez are. And give me a break, it would be impossible to work the front desk for EPPD and not speak Spanish. Completely, utterly, impossible. Get your resume together Kitty, it's time to start your job hunt. Maybe there's an opening to waitress at a bistro on the West Side? Cross your fingers.

I don't mean to make this all about race and nationality, but the show was incredibly inaccurate on that front. The police officer in Juarez speaks English at home to his wife and son? Really? At first I thought they did that because people hate reading subtitles but there was plenty of Spanish thrown in the mix throughout the show. I did like how they left words like guey and pinche out of the translations. It felt like an inside joke for the Spanish speaking viewers. Really the only thing that was accurate in this episode was the fact that you can drive right through a major US Point of Entry without CBP checking your trunk. Everything else was just... off.

Not only did they get El Paso wrong, they made Juarenses out to look like assholes. I've never lived in a place that was the setting for a television show, but maybe this is how it always is? Maybe the people of Albuquerque hate Breaking Bad? I'm not sure, but man... this was pretty awful. I was happy to see that Matthew Lillard came out from the rock he's been hiding under since 1998 and happy to see one of the characters question, "why one dead white woman is more important than so many dead just across the bridge," but other than that, I just couldn't get past the inaccuracies. It felt like the longest 65 minutes of my life and I checked the clock on multiple occasions wishing time would go by faster.

In the end I was just left thinking, how in the hell can you tell a person is Hispanic by just seeing their legs and do you think Amazon will give me a refund for episode 7?