Monday, February 27, 2012

When Housewife Was Not a Dirty Word

In my day, it was a young man's ideal to marry, get a decent job to support his wife who would stay home, clean, cook and raise the kids. When I asked my wife to marry me, I promised to support her for life, a promise which I have kept.

She, on the other hand, readily and proudly accepted her role as wife, mother, and housewife. It is how she had been raised in a Mexican family of five girls and one boy.

Her mother was the ultimate Matriarch. Strong, moralistic, and hard working who instilled into her daughters the traditional role of women. The woman's place was in the home.

However, these roles came in conflict when my wife joined me in the United States and she came in contact with American women. My mother warned in reference to Mexican girls and this cutural clash: "Cuando llegan a Los Estados Unidos llegan muy 'songuitas', pero con el tiempo sacan las u├▒as "(when a girl arrives in the U.S. she is very docile, but soon begins to show her claws). The word "songuito/a" was and idiom conjuring the image of a pliant, innocent, obedient and docile creature.

In the 60's as the Women's Liberation Movement took wing, my wife and I were caught up in the changes. On one hand, I welcomed the idea of women moving out of the house to embrace new gender roles and careers, but I feared there would be a cost, a price to pay in the home and family.

For years, she suffered guilt as a result of my intellectual and sexually liberated female friends. Most were educated, and worldly and she a mere "housewife." She loved her home and prided herself in keeping it spotless. She adored cooking for her husband and children. She was a model mother. But she had to spar and deflect the overt and covert contempt of her newly liberated American peers. The effort to change the negatively charged moniker from "Housewife" to "Homemaker" did little to comfort her. They viewed her as "quaint."

To counter this I told her one day, "The next time an American woman asks 'Oh, and what do you do?' Tell them you hold a Master's Degree in Home Making!" She did, and it worked. They usually backed off.

Once, while living in Oakland we met some distant friends on her family's side, a young Chicano couple who loved to socialize. However, after attending a few parties at their house we noticed a sharp division between the men and the women. The men, sat at the kitchen table, smoking, playing cards and drinking beer. The women, retired to a bedroom where they talked about babies, cooking and shopping. We joined in on the rigid order, until one day I told my wife "Why don't we really shake up the place next time we are invited to a party, with you sitting with the men at the kitchen table, and me joing the women in the bedroom?"

It took and immense amount of courage, but we did it. The place was never the same.

One day, when my Mother-in-law visited us from Mexico City, as she sat on our couch knitting, my son's girlfried came over with a pair of trousers that needed to be hemmed. She frantically beseeched my wife to sew them up for her. My wife readily took the trousers and in her mother's presence, hemmed them with a needle and thread.

Not one minute after the front door closed and the frantic girlfriend left, my mother-in-law launched into a tirade! "What is it with these American girls? My God, they don't even know how to sew!!" Not to mention the fact that the girl had not even acknowledged my "suegra", or even offered her hand to greet her when she arrived, or when she left. Such manners.

What's prompted my writing all of this, I suppose, is that recently one of my wife's sisters from Mexico visited us. She had just turned 60 and when her husband asked her what she wanted for her birthday, she told him she wanted to visit her sister in the U.S. Joining us, was another sister who lives in town, and I relished watching and listening to them share childhood stories and memories in our living room. On one occasion, the sisters were sharing knitting "secrets", probably taught to them by their mother, as the three knitted together on the couch.

What a sight! What a pleasant hike into the past, into what is being lost, into what has already disappeared. When I shared the insight with my wife later that night in bed, I asked her "Do all your sisters knit?" "Yes, they all do. But the master knitter is my sister, Marta. She is so fast, she knits a sweater in a day. You can hardly see her hands move." I marveled at the image.

"But Marta does not sell any of her work for personal profit. All of it is donated to the parish and sold and the profits from her knitting has paid for nearly all of the pews in her church."

To this day, my wife and her four sisters, are proud housewives, with the exception of one who is divorced and now works for an outfit that buys used auto batteries, and sells refurbished ones, an odd resume, don't you agree?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Caution: Some Of My Best Friends Are Illegals II

I am referencing this entry "II" since I have a sneaking suspicion I have already written about it in a previous entry a couple of years ago (just in case).

I grew up around illegals, so my feelings about them are probably biased (if you had, yours would be too). In the barrio, some were our neighbors, friends, even relatives.  In the 40's and 50's we called them "Mojados", (Wets), referencing their having crossed the Rio Grande illegally.

They were regularly "rounded up" and deported to Mexico by the dreaded "Migra", the Immigration Department, and most would be back in a few weeks. It was no big deal. Most just wanted to work, send some money to their loved ones in Mexico and had no intention of staying.

Their presence was usually seasonal, usually during the summers when cannery or farmwork was abundant. And they went back to Mexico in winter. Things have changed now and many come with the intention of staying, especially after they have kids who are born here.

In the Woody Guthrie song, "The Deportees", he sings of the tragic death of a planeload of "Deportees" that crashes in the "Los Gatos Canyon" in Central California, killing all on board and of the how "the radio said they was just 'deportees'." Yet, Woody seeks to humanize them by giving them names: "Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalia, adios mis amigos Jesus y Maria. You won't have a name when you ride that big airplane; all they will call you is just 'deportees.' "

To compound the tragedy, Guthrie begins by writing, "The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting; the oranges are packed in their creosote dump", noting the grower's illogical insistence on deporting his workers, at the cost of plowing under his ready-to-harvest crop. "They're flying em' back to the Mexican border, to spend all their money to wade back again", writes Guthrie, questioning the logic of deporting people who will just "wade back again".

Cesar Chavez uncovered many cases of ranchers knowingly hiring illegals, then calling the Immigration Department on the night before "payday" to have them deported!

Today's immigration debate is highly complex, divisive, contentuous, heated, and appears to have no easy solution. One of the most complex issues of the debate concerns the status of U.S. born children of illegals. The Obama policy of mass deportation has split families in two, sending parents back to Mexico, often leaving their U.S. born offspring behind to fend for themselves.

Yesterday, I read in the paper how Republicans, who would simply like to round up all 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S. , some who have lived all their lives here, with U.S. born children and grandchildren and ship them all back to Mexico, now are going after tax loopholes allowing illegals to file for a $1000. per child refund credit on their income taxes, for each U.S. born child, costing the country millions. They are able to do this, probably by obtaining a Tax ID number, using falsified SSN numbers. I am not codoning this, just pointing to the absurdity of the issue.

By law, of course, children born of parents illegally in the U.S. automatically become U.S. citizens, though some Republicans want to change the Constitution to deny this right, complicating matters even more. To begin, illegals in the U.S. pay taxes too. U.S. employers often deduct Social Security and payroll taxes from their paychecks. Moreover, every time an illegal buys food, clothing, or a used car, he pays taxes like the rest of us. Oh, the irony, the irony.

Seems to me if we are going to begrudge these tax refunds to people who are in our country illegally, when the children they are claiming the credit for are U.S. citizens, then in good conscience, it should also be "illegal" to accept sales taxes from any person living in the country illegally. A sign posted at the entrance to all retail outlets should read: "Notice: Illegal aliens are NOT required pay taxes on goods." That would only be fair, que no?

Meanwhile, it is perfectly fine to just keep on taxing the U.S. born children of illegals, right?