Tag: abuela

Anybody Remember “Cocoon”?

My abuela is past 90 and shows no signs of ill health. I wonder if she will visit me in the retirement home, because I will end up in one of those places long before she does.

I mention this because more Americans are entering “the sandwich generation,” where they raise their kids while taking care of their aging parents. It’s a common scenario, and the premise for at least a couple of failed sitcoms.

Indeed, in post-recession America, multiple generations under one roof is not uncommon. And for Latinos, economic necessity and strong familial bonds increase the odds that individuals will one day have to take care of their parents. But that scenario doesn’t seem to faze us.

In fact, more than 90% of Hispanics say providing assistance to elderly loved ones will be a positive experience, a higher number than the general population. And while more than half of all caregivers to the elderly report being stressed about the situation, only one-third of Latinos who care for an older person say that it has caused stress.

Yes, as I’ve written before, putting one’s aging parents in a retirement home is unthinkable for many Hispanics. Latino culture is strongly focused on the family, and it is often assumed that elderly parents will eventually go live with their adult children. As one Latina writer puts it, “We open our doors and bring [elderly parents] home, we care for them, and we do not set them aside like a piece of old furniture.”



Of course, that’s a little harsh on all you non-Latinos who plan to stuff mom and dad in one of those old folks’ homes at some point. But it is — how can I put this? — pretty much damn true.

Now, there is a dark side to this. Perhaps because Latinos often presume that elderly parents will eventually go live with their adult children, just 10% of Latinos report that they have done much planning for their long-term care.

So when madre or padre does move in, stresses such as overcrowding and conflicting needs can pile up. Still, we seem to be handling it well so far.

As for my abuela, thus far she has not had to move in with any of her kids (or more likely, her grandkids). She lives by herself, where she cooks, watches TV, and reminisces about the past.

But I bet she’s also plotting how to spend the inheritances she will get, considering she will outlive all of us.



Many Languages, One Voice

When my cousins from El Salvador first came to America, they didn’t speak English. Of course, they were kids, so they rapidly learned it. Today, everyone in my family, except for my abuela, embraces English as their primary mode of communication. My cousins’ children (and mine) will have to make an effort to be bilingual and not leave Spanish in my family’s past.

But other families don’t face the dilemma of losing the mother tongue. In fact, about 5 million children in the United States don’t speak English as their primary language. This constitutes 9% of all US public school students. Now, that number includes a lot of kids who speak Tagalong or Russian or Mandarin or something else that most of us don’t recognize.

But it’s fair to say that many of the children who speak English as a second language (ESL) communicate only in Spanish.


Because we’re hearing more Spanish than ever in the country’s schools, the Obama administration recently issued the nation’s first set of federal guidelines on the rights of ESL students. The guidelines remind school districts across the country of their obligations under the law.

Among other things, all schools must identify ESL students in a timely manner, offer them language assistance and provide qualified staff and resources to help them learn English. In essence, ESL students have the same rights to a quality education as students who speak English, and schools must avoid segregating English learners from other students.

I know this is a shocker to the nativist crowd, but you can’t just yell, “Speak English, damn it!” at perplexed kids.

The decision makes clear that students who speak Spanish, or other languages, are becoming more common, and the American educational system has to meet their needs. The Obama guidelines are a welcome indicator of that fact.

Of course, it’s a little sad that anyone has to be reminded of this in the first place.

An Ominous U-turn

It’s taken as a given — a damn article of faith — that each generation in America does at least as well as its parents, preferably better. This is the reason old people go on and on about all the sacrifices they made for you. They wanted you to have a better life than they did.

Well, as we all know, that forward progress came to a jolting halt with Gen X. People of my age group have heard many times how we will be the first generation in American history to do worse than our parents. Let me tell you, that little factoid never gets stale… nope.

But now there is more to the story. A new study implies that the grandchildren of Latino immigrants — the third generation — make a U-turn in generational improvement in some areas and end up worse off than their parents.



Basically, if you are a Millenial Hispanic, you are so very, very screwed.

The study showed that second-generation Latinos (like me) tend to do better than their immigrant parents in such areas as education, employment and financial stability. But the third generation sees that forward momentum sputter and slide back down. Their educational and economic progress stagnates.

The researchers theorize that second-generation Latinos grow up hearing about their parents’ difficult lives in their home countries. I know this was true for me. I heard many times from my mom and aunt about El Salvador and how it was not exactly the most blessed of nations.

Hearing such tales may inspire second-generation Latinos to improve upon their parents’ situation. However, the third generation is more removed from this frame of reference. It seems that abuela’s anecdotes about walking to school barefoot and living on nothing but rice and beans just don’t register with those darn kids.

Of course, that’s only part of the problem. More important, issues like poverty and discrimination may become more entrenched by the third generation, and this may drag on young Latinos, making it difficult to improve upon their parents’ status.

As the researchers note, there is only “so much you can do with motivation and drive to get out of poverty.…At some point, you need the structural means to overcome a lot of these problems.”

Yes, that means investing in education, infrastructure, and other boogeyman “big government” solutions. Somehow, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

It’s almost enough to make you grateful for being a member of Gen X. And that’s saying something.


No Relaxing Allowed

As I’ve written before, we Hispanics are known for our fierce work ethic.

Think of immigrants slaving away at grueling tasks that native-born Americans refuse to do. Or consider that last year, “the number of Latino entrepreneurs grew more than white, black, and Asian entrepreneurs.”

Yes, we sure like to work. It’s unfortunate, then, that so many Hispanics who reach old age have nothing to show for it. This is because “fewer than half of … Latino workers have retirement plans on the job, leaving the vast majority of them with no savings designated for their golden years.”


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Let me give a quick thanks to Cousin #3 for her comment on my post “Cousin #1.” She clarifies an error I made and also makes some great points about the importance of societal priorities… and how they’re often fucked up.

But since we’re on the subject of family, now is a good time to introduce you to the grandmother.

Three-quarters of my grandparents died before I was born or so early in my life that I have virtually no recollection of them. So my only real experience with grandparents is my maternal abuela.

I met my grandmother when I was eleven, when she moved to this country against her will. All through my adolescence and early adulthood, she rarely passed on an opportunity to remind everyone that she had never wanted to come to the United States and that it was her troublesome daughters who had brought her to this frigid nation.

She is now pushing ninety, and she has lived in America for almost one-third of her life. Her birthday is October 31 (Halloween), and when she discovered that American kids dress up like ghosts and demons and devils on that day, she took it personally.

Despite her advanced age, she is absurdly healthy, leading my family to the conclusion that we have good genes and tend to live a long time if nobody shoots us. It’s true that she limps more noticeably because of a hip injury from decades past. But even with this mild handicap, helping her down the stairs is pointless, as she is likely to slap away the hand of someone trying to guide her. It’s a bit of a metaphor.

Her stubbornness is legendary and shows up at predictable moments. For example, it isn’t really a family Christmas until she throws a fit. Each year, she denounces the food as inedible, even if a separate dish has been made solely for her and is something that she consumes every other day of the year (usually dark-meat chicken). Then she goes to sit by herself on the couch while everyone else eats and drinks and laughs. The first few holidays that she pulled this, one of the cousins or someone brimming with Christmas spirit would try to cheer her up. By now, however, we barely notice when she limps off in peevishness. It is tradition, and it usually means that we can open the presents soon.

Food has also been the source of a few run-ins that I’ve had with her. When she came to America, she brought her old-world ways with her, which included a belief that men can’t – and more importantly, shouldn’t – ever cook. My mother tried to explain to her that things were different in America and, as a single mom, she needed me to step up and occasionally prepare my own meals. This scandalized my grandmother, who dismissed the whole argument of men in the kitchen with a curt “Sin verguenza.”

And yes, if you take her out to dinner, she will complain that the food is cooked specifically to kill her.

Her drive to be judgmental is, in culinary matters at least, somewhat justified. She makes magnificent pupusas, which are a Salvadoran delicacy so amazing that I feel physically sorry for anyone who has not had them.

Making pupusas are a link to her previous life in El Salvador. However, asking her about this former life doesn’t reveal fascinating insights about another culture or a deeper look at our family tree.

Instead, it usually just provokes her to spit out some fact about the area and follow it up with a list of townspeople whom she hated or are probably dead. Then she waves her bony hands and declares the conversation finished.

Indeed, when she visited her homeland for the first time in decades, she summarized the trip with a shrug and the condemnation that everyone in El Salvador had become morbidly obese.

She has outlived two of her children and all of the men in her life. As one family member has stated, “You’re supposed to live long enough to annoy your children. But she’s lived long enough to annoy her grandchildren.” Actually, she is now a great-grandmother, so perhaps she will let a third generation know exactly what she thinks of it.

Despite her perpetual grumpiness, my grandmother did have one moment of moral clarity and bold defiance. That moment, however, deserves a post of its own, so I will address it in the future.

Instead, let me relate the fact that about twenty years after being dragged into America kicking and screaming, my grandmother learned that the war in El Salvador was over and that she could safely go home to live out her remaining years. My mother and aunt told her the news with the expectation that my abuela would be thrilled to return.

But my grandmother looked them right in the eye and said she didn’t have the slightest idea what they were talking about. America was her home, and she had no intention of returning to a sweltering land with dirt roads. She denied ever denigrating the United States, and she said it was crazy to think that she would ever want to leave.

“Por que?” she said, and returned to cooking her pupusas.

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