In the family in which I grew up, *my parents judged everyone by their looks and their pedigree. In order to meet their standards, there was a very specific criteria: they must come from what my stepmother called ‘a nice family’ which meant they belonged to an exclusive country club,
dressed well etc. Their clothes should come from [in those days] places like Brooks Brothers, Neiman Marcus etc. Of course they were Anglo, had probably gone to boarding school and hopefully graduated from an Ivy League University. They usually went to one of the Episcopal churches in one of the wealthier parts of the city…St John the Divine comes to mind. Church was a social thing, not a religious thing and it was also part of my parents’ criteria.
My dad had an extreme dislike for ex president Jimmy Carter because not only was he a Democrat but he didn’t wear a tie! He hated Martin Luther King; we lived across the street from the George H. W.Bush family.
I remember a story my stepmother told me when I was about 14. I had gone out a few times with Cary Marcus, whose father and uncles owned Neiman Marcus and my stepmother told me that although everyone really liked the Marcuses, Nancy Marcus, Cary’s mother who was not Jewish, had made a big mistake by marrying Lawrence Marcus who was Jewish. This mistake had prevented Nancy Marcus from being in the Junior League and other exclusive organizations; this was a warning to me about the consequences of marrying the ‘wrong’ person from the ‘wrong’ religion.
I thought my stepmother was crazy..I was only 14, not planning to marry anyone and I most definitely did not want to be in the Junior League or belong to a Country Club.
This was how I grew up…as soon as possible I escaped.
- My parents were just following in the footsteps of their parents, they didn’t know any other way but what I learned from them was invaluable: I learned that I never wanted to live like they did.
I lived through what seemed like several different lifetimes in various parts of Texas but eventually I was able to move to northeastern New Mexico and this is where I live now.
I live in a tiny, very rural Hispanic community which I have written about before. Living in this place was not intentional, rather it was destiny. When I was in Texas I was never around Hispanic people with the exception of one friend and in fact, I remember feeling irritated when I made a phone call and the recording said “press one for English, two for Spanish”. Why don’t they just speak English was my thought.
But everything changed for me when I moved to this tiny community: judgements and opinions I had were wiped away, I was in the minority [New Mexico is the most Hispanic state in the US] and finally I felt at home.
I’ve written about some of this before but in this post, I’m writing mainly about the Hispanic men, the norteños [referring to people from the north, not a gang] who could not possibly be more different from the men I grew up around…When I was in high school, there were lots of parties around Thanksgiving and Christmas. These were connected to the debut parties and in Houston, they were usually held at either the Houston Country Club or the River Oaks Country Club. If you were invited to one of these parties, you received your invitation from an invitation service and the name of your date who had been chosen for you, would be in the invitation.
You would never get the same boy’s name twice..this was so that you had plenty of opportunities to meet ‘Mr. Right’ These boys were always immaculately dressed, they came from ‘nice families’ but I felt a huge emptiness and there was a cold rigidity that was part of that culture. As a result, there were quite a few suicides.[watch The Dead Poet Society film clip below]
I was a teenager, very emotionally unstable and not in touch with myself however there was one thing I knew: I could not relate to these people. I didn’t understand relationships but I knew that eventually I would have to marry one of these boys in order to get approval from my parents….and I would be doomed to live a life of ‘quiet desperation’.
I lived, barely surviving emotionally through these times; I got married, I had a son and then my life fell apart and I rebelled.
Many years passed but eventually after a huge of therapy and many painful experiences, I moved to this little community where I’ve learned so much. And because I live with a Hispanic man, definitely a norteño….
I’ve been able to learn about and understand the culture in a much more personal way.
Most of the men in this area look very macho, very tough with shaved heads, their bodies covered in tattoos and many have been to prison. I was afraid at first but eventually I came to see that the tattoos, do-rags and shaved heads are part of their culture just as the suits and ties were part of the culture I grew up in.
And when I understood who they really were inside, I saw that so many of them are ‘soft hearts’. There are lots of artists, musicians and craftsmen..many of them love to cook. They are used to hard work, they know how to ride horses, shear sheep, brand cattle…. grow a garden and build things …they grew up that way. They have the greatest respect for the Elders, they cry easily…they are an emotionally warm and passionate people.
Today is a beautiful day here in this little community I live in. It’s early spring and I am surrounded by flowers….
and gardens, a thriving greenhouse with vegetables and herbs [including marijuana which we have a license to grow for medical reasons], an outdoor garden just beginning, our animal family: horses, doves, chickens, wolfdogs and 2 cats.
We have hardly any money, we’re always working toward being more self sufficient. We’re off the grid so the sun provides our electricity, wood from the forest, our heat. Our days are spent caring for the animals, the garden and the greenhouse and for Jody, creating art: personal altars at the moment.I could have lived in the culture I was raised in but absolute conformity was required and I could not do that. I would have had plenty of money, no worries about material things but by now I would certainly be dead because I would have been SO POOR in terms of LIFE, SPIRIT and CREATIVITY.
Below are a couple film clips very much related to the world I grew up in-one from The Dead Poet Society– very sad but absolutely true, the other with a little more humor and also true. And I’ve posted a clip from The Milago Beanfield War which is related to life here in ‘El Norte’.