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How do you decide what kind of parent you want to be? Our friends at Pulso Podcast, Maribel Quezada Smith and Liz Alarcón, discuss ways they maintain their children’s cultural identity as Latinos. They also touch on what they have changed from how their immigrant parents raised them. And, Liz sits down with Latinx parenting coach Leslie Priscilla to talk about her work using an antiracist, anticolonial and child-centered lens.
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Featuring Music Music composed by Julian Blackmore
Music composed by Julian Blackmore
Amy Gastelum: Today on Making Contact we’re talking parenting. We know that parenting can be revolution, can be resistance. But it requires consciousness. This episode is a chat between friends, Liz and Maribel about their experiences parenting como Latinas.
Liz Alarcón: And all the thoughts, Maribel, on how we grew up and what parts of the Latino upbringing that we had, do we want to make sure we pass on to our kids? Do we want to make sure we discard? We’re going to talk about it all.
Amy Gastelum: In the second half, Liz is gonna talk to Leslie Priscilla, a Mexican-American parenting coach whose work centers dismantling colonial structures of oppression, starting at home.
Liz Alarcón: That concept of dominance and violence, whether it’s verbal or physical, where does that come from?
Leslie Priscilla: Colonization, girl. Like, it all comes from colonization.
Amy Gastelum: This episode is from our friends at Pulso Podcast, bringing Latino voices you aren’t hearing in the news and stories you didn’t learn in history class. The founder and executive director, Liz Alarcón, starts us off. At the time this recording was made, Liz was pregnant with her first child, Eva.
Liz: Okay, you all, so during today’s episode, we are going to talk about something that is top of mind for both Maribel and myself. Me, as someone who will be having that role in the very near future. Maribel, as someone who is actively having that role. And we’re talking about being… moms.
Maribel: Ha! Yes. And learning to be moms is such a journey, isn’t it?
I mean, well, I know you’re about to be, but I feel like even when you’re pregnant, you already know. You’re already starting.
What have been your latest thoughts on what kind of mom you want to be?
Liz: Well, I, of course, start with my grandma. You know, as I’m thinking about my own journey, I’m like, what did my grandma do? And then what did my mom do that I love and don’t love?
And I remember Maribel growing up here in South Florida. My grandma, thankfully, was able to spend a lot of time with us. And boy was her influence felt. I had to iron my t shirts every day before going to middle and high school. And now so flip flops, like open toed shoes, but not leave the house with that on.
And of course, my grandmother straightening my very curly hair to go to school, because how could you present yourself in public at 12 years old with your curly natural hair. So those are, those are really strong, vivid memories that I have of, of how my grandma would just pass on that Venezuelan-ness to me in school.
Maribel: Man, that’s interesting because you mentioned 12 and that’s such a key age for me when I moved to the United States. So, right. We have that coincidence and I feel like that was such a critical age for me because it was in that moment of trying to figure out who you are. And moving here at that age, I was obviously very Mexican, but I think that transition really had a big effect on me because I felt like I had to actually suppress my Latinidad during that time, because I was in school with a bunch of kids who didn’t look like me, didn’t sound like me, but my parents at home really wanted us to keep our values or, you know, some of our same traditions and things. So, you know, I had similar things where like, I would have tortas for lunch and my friends would be like, what is that on your, what’s that bread with green stuff? Cause my mom would put avocado in my tortas. Or I would have the scenario where somebody would ask me to sleep over and my parents would be like, absolutely no.
Did you ever have that? Your parents let you go on sleepovers?
Liz: Oh my gosh, 100 percent no was the answer. I can also relate to that of like, having that stringent upbringing where it’s like a lot of those American traditions of like, sleeping over or being at people’s houses were a definite no. To be honest, I don’t know if I’m going to let my daughter sleep over anywhere.
Maribel: I was, okay, so see, I was wondering the same thing because I feel like I’ve been thinking about that too. Like, do I really want my son sleeping over at some strange person’s house? I mean, obviously I would never, it would never be a stranger.
When you’re a parent, I think it really does shift that mindset.
Liz: Yeah, and now you think about it, and there’s all these, like, horror stories of what happens after dark. And there’s that saying of, like, “Nada bueno pasa después de las doce.” Like, nothing good happens after midnight, you know? Like, you start getting into that mindset. And I, and I appreciate all of those, those moments now of just how different it must have been for our parents to, to raise us in this context. I can totally see their perspective of this vast, grand, huge, like, city life. And you have just so little control, yeah, of how your kids are growing up.
I, I get why it was hard for them to let go, … to kind of be a little bit more free. I don’t know if you feel the same.
Maribel: I understand some of the reasoning behind their decisions, but I have to say that there are some things from their parenting style that I’m definitely not planning to keep in my style.
While there are others that I do want to keep and I don’t know if you’ve if you’ve really thought about what you want to keep from your childhood.
Liz: So many things Maribel right? Well, my husband and I talk about this a lot. And I think after hopefully doing everything we can to make sure that Eva is a healthy, well-adjusted human being, the second thing that’s most important for us is for her to conserve her Latina identity.
So I do think about this a lot and I think about what does it mean for us to do that with now a person who would be second generation American and will be one more generation removed from my husband’s Colombian upbringing and my family’s Venezuelan heritage? And so one of the things that we have intentionally done to try to keep that culture alive is stay here in Miami. Being in South Florida, It’s a majority Latino city. Everyone speaks Spanish before they speak to you in English. Her friends in class will be bilingual. Those are, those are serious considerations that we thought about before planning a family because we really want to do as much as we can to at least have her grow up in an environment that is doing the most to keep that identity alive. How about you?
Maribel: Oh, my God. Yeah. Keeping the identity alive is huge for us. But see, the difference is I married a black man from Kentucky.
Liz: So she’s bicultural or tricultural, even. Many different mixes of cultures.
Maribel: Yeah, so my son is a variety of cultures and he is like, that’s a struggle for me sometimes because he’s learning Spanish.
I only speak to him in Spanish. And that was a thing that I said from the get go. I was like, I will only be speaking to my son or kids if we have any more in Spanish. And I’ve done that. But here’s the thing, he will, he will start to reply, now that he’s starting to say some words, he’ll reply in English.
So, I’ll say like, Renzi, you know, what color is that? And I’ll be pointing at, at morado, and he’ll say, “purple.”
Liz: Oh, I feel that Maribel, that was me, that was me growing up and I had so many temper tantrums when my parents would force me to speak Spanish and I always share this story because the reason I’m bilingual fully is because of the tyranny in my home to speak Spanish and what I would do was get the silent treatment.
Maribel: Oh, no.
Liz: If I didn’t answer them in Spanish. So I would do the same thing as I would answer back in English. And if I didn’t say the word in Spanish, my parents just would ignore me. I’m not suggesting that you all approach this tactic. It was very harsh, but I totally get the struggle because it’s a lot of discipline to be able to make sure to pass on the language and I know that that’s something that we’ve talked about as well.
We also plan to only speak Spanish at home, but we know it’s going to be tough because if they’re in school speaking English con los amiguitos, they’re going to want to speak English as well. So it’s tough to, to deal with that when their life outside of the home is in English.
Maribel: I mean, at least your husband speaks Spanish. Mine doesn’t. He says some words. He does try, but he does, he’s not fluent and he’s definitely not bilingual. So. It’s hard and he told me the other day, he was like, why isn’t he speaking more Spanish? I said, this, this is all your fault. Okay, let’s just get it out in the open when he grows up and he has to go to spend a semester abroad so that he can really get immersed in the language and actually start to speak the language better. That’s going to be on you. It’s all you.
Liz: I love that. Share that responsibility, Maribel. And thankfully, language is not the only way to keep our traditions alive. So I’m curious, what are the things are you doing at home or things that you want to conserve about your Latino identity?
Maribel: We kept both last names. So we gave him two last names is what I mean. So he, he has both my last name and my husband’s last name. And that is super important for me. And it was from the beginning because I made him too.
Liz: Well, there’s another thing we have in common, because we gave Eva a short name, uh, precisely so that she could have both of our last names and we planned to hyphenate, because I feel the same way as you.
I didn’t, um, change my last name when we got married, but, uh, besides wanting to, to make sure that both of our last names were, were included when we named her, um, another consideration we had with her first name too was a name that sounded good in English, good in Spanish, that you can say in both languages, Eva is Eva is Eva.
So there’s a lot in a name and I’m, I’m glad that we’re both thinking about it because it really does matter.
Maribel: Yeah, absolutely. But what about the food? Like, do you think that you’ll be serving her the same kind of food that you grew up with and the same ingredients or are you gonna have like a mixed bag of things?
Liz: Yeah, food. One of my favorite topics. One of my favorite activities, Maribel, is to eat. I think about food probably 90 percent of my day.
So I think about this a lot. You know, I think we’ll, we’ll definitely have a mix, but I will say that as a person who loves to cook, which I really, really do, I focus the things that I’ve learned on mastering Venezuelan and Colombian dishes over other cuisines that I might enjoy.
So I love Thai food, for example, and instead of maybe focusing on a Thai recipe when I’m, you know, being curious and exploring at home I’ll focus on some of the dishes that my husband’s grandmother would make or some dishes that my grandma makes only once a year so that I can pass those dishes on and because it is really important to me that she craves those foods you know and that at home she can associate that we are Colombian and Venezuelan and that our foods matter and, and you can eat everything from all over the world.
But, but home, we really do want her to associate it with our foods. So I definitely prioritize that. How about you?
Maribel: Yeah, the taste. I think it’s so important to allow them to taste those ingredients. He’s doing really well, like I give him frijoles, tortillas, quesadillas, like all of that he will eat. In Mexico, we have a lot of different vegetable dishes and, you know, it’s not all cheese and sour cream as some people would think in the U. S. So I think that’s also really important is for him to explore the deep culinary roots of our culture, it’s not just what’s presented in the United States to you, it’s actually deeper than that and there are more complex dishes available to you that are even healthier.
Liz: Totally, Maribel, totally, totally, there’s just so, so much to explore within our communities. And that takes me to another dynamic that I want to talk about of things that I know I want to keep, which is being exposed to growing up with extended family. I don’t know how that looked like for you when you moved to the U.S. but in my case, I would go to Venezuela every summer until I was 15, spend four months there with my aunts and uncles and grandmas by myself.
As I mentioned, my grandma would spend quite a bit of time with us, but it was really beautiful to grow up in a village. You know, we often say it takes a village, but it’s difficult to recreate that village here in the U.S. And so, something that I want to try to replicate as much as possible is for Eva to grow up with other really close relationships that are just not her mom and her dad and, you know, if we have other kids, her siblings, right?
How, how do you feel about that?
Maribel: I totally agree. It’s the same thing when I grew up in Mexico. We had a huge, we have a huge family. So I spent summers with all my cousins and aunts and uncles and I don’t want, I don’t want Renzi to grow up without a village. So, I’m trying to build a village for him here as well with Latino kids and Latino families and also Black families, because I, I, you know, like I mentioned, my kid is Black and he’s, he’s Mexican as well. So I want him to grow up with both cultures and we’re building the village here, with friendships and people who have kids of the similar age and who understand that that’s important as well. And I think that’s something that’s coming back. The village mentality of raising a kid where like your neighbors and your friends, everybody kind of chips in and you get together more often.
Liz: It’s a dance between keeping what we like, keeping the essence of what we like, but transforming it into our new realities and creating our new sense of family where it makes sense for us.
Maribel: The thing is, like you said before, that not everything from our upbringing is wonderful. And we don’t necessarily want to keep all of the things. So, how do we balance that? And that’s the trick. Like, that’s gonna be the struggle for me. Like, how do I celebrate what I have, what I brought up, what I was brought up in, while being able to get over the traumas like the things that did not help me be a better person or harm me in some ways, the generational trauma that we built up in our cultures, because there’s so much.
Like, can you think of something right now that you’re like, I am not bringing that into my child’s life. Well, I know I have a few.
Liz: So much therapy, I will say so much therapy to process it all. That definitely helps. And yes, absolutely. I mean, my husband and I talk about this all the time. One of the things that we definitely don’t want to pass down is that machismo culture. Sometimes my family will come over and they still cede the head of the table to my husband who is 40 years younger than them because he is the man of the house and I quickly stop that in its tracks. So those are small examples of just that culture of special deference to the father or to the men in the family. We are not passing that down.
Maribel: Raising a son, that’s super tricky because it is so ingrained in our culture, the machismo, the sexism is so ingrained in our culture that I am like trying very consciously to be like, hey, it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to like all the colors. I dress my son in all the colors.
I don’t care. And I’ve had people say things before, which is insane to me, but I’ve had people say like, “Oh, oh, he’s a boy, but you know, he’s, he’s wearing pink”. So? You know, like things like that, I am trying really hard, but it’s so tough. Because society makes it really hard.
Liz: Wow, Maribel, te lo creo, te lo creo. Can you think of other fears that you definitely don’t want to pass on that you grew up with?
Maribel: I definitely don’t want to beat my child. I don’t want to bring violence into the home. That’s been a huge topic of discussion because here’s the thing, for some reason, la palita and all that, la chancla, whatever you want to call it, whatever it was at your house, the belt, that was like a cultural pride to some people.
And that’s how people, you know, grow up to be good humans. No, not in my book. I definitely got the palita and the belt. And let me tell you, none of that helped me be more respectful towards my parents. The only thing it did was drive a wedge between me and my parents.
Liz: And fear them!
Maribel: I was afraid of them. I was scared of them. I didn’t feel like I could talk to them or even trust them with some of my life issues or questions. And that to me is sad. So yeah, that’s definitely something that we are really trying to be conscious about and I don’t want to bring, I don’t want to pass that on.
Liz: It is sometimes tough to, to openly talk about these conversations. Even some of my, my elder family members or even some of uncles and aunts and people who are closer to my age are, are kind of resistant to like acknowledging the truth about how we grew up. Lo bueno y lo malo, right? It’s not all bad. We have so many beautiful things to celebrate but I know in my family uh, it’s very triggering and sometimes very tough to, to air out these grievances, even still.
Maribel: Yeah. It’s like people want to pretend like certain things didn’t happen. I mean, here’s the scary part. I’ve had a lot of conversations with Latina friends in the U.S. of like the creepy uncle. Right? Like that creepy family member who like felt them up in some way or did something weird and they never talked about it. And it never really got discussed and never dealt with. That to me is heartbreaking, and it’s almost like, oh yeah, yeah, I had one of those. Everybody like seems to share something like that in common.
Liz: Hashtag me too in both senses, Mariel. I did too, and that’s a Me Too moment, right? When you think about it. You’re so right. So many of us have those, have those experiences.
I hadn’t even thought of that, but that’s where like that lack of transparency and like if you see something, say something like you can tell us anything no matter who it is. And I want that confianza, which is my favorite word in Spanish. And for those of you all listening who don’t speak Spanish, confianza is this word of like, instant trust and comfortability that you feel with someone.
That is what I hope that Eva feels in her home always regardless of who it’s about or who it’s from, even if it’s from us. Right. And. Not all of us grew up with that confianza with our parents or with our family.
Maribel: No, and that’s the thing. Like, I didn’t have that because I was scared of them. So I didn’t feel like I could talk to them about certain things.
Boundaries need to be set. There’s a very big difference between boundaries and fear.
Maribel: Boundaries are not the same thing as violence. Boundaries are not the same thing as fear. So I feel like people often get that twisted and especially in our culture. And I don’t want to pass that down at all.
Liz: A hundred percent, Maribel. We agree on so many things. I feel so much more at ease knowing that I am not the only one thinking about this and that there are moms like you who have already been experiencing this in real life as my husband and I think about what our future with Eva is. And I know so many of the people listening now to this episode can relate because it’s, it’s a real tension.
It’s real what we feel. It’s also real that feeling that we have of wanting to honor our culture, our ancestors, our family, the beauty and vibrancy of being Latinos here, there, back home in the U.S. and anywhere. And yes, and which is my favorite phrase. Like we can adopt new traditions. We can leave and bring with us, um, what’s also useful to make sure that we pass on our culture to our kids, right?
Maribel: Kudos to you for thinking about this ahead of time, but I’m telling you it is a journey my friend. We’re gonna be on this ride forever Liz. So Strapping girlfriend. I’ll be right there with you.
Liz: I was gonna say but anyway, at least we’re in it together and we’re going to make it through.
Maribel: We’re gonna make it.
Lucy Kang: You’re listening to Making Contact. Just jumping in here to remind you to visit us online if you like today’s show or want to leave us a comment. We have more information at radioproject.org. And now, back to the show.
Amy Gastelum: Welcome back to the show. In this half, Liz talks to Leslie Priscila, a Mexican American parenting coach whose practice is rooted in children’s rights, social justice, and decolonization as a way of dismantling oppressive practices in families. This conversation took place about 10 months after the one you just heard.
And in that time, Liz became a mom to baby Eva. And while that first conversation focused a lot on the joys of Latinidad and cultural traditions that Liz and Maribel want to maintain, Liz and Priscila tackle another hard part. What it looks like to break generational cycles that didn’t serve them growing up.
When Priscilla was pregnant with her first child, she knew she wanted to raise her daughter differently from the way she was parented. So she started reading parenting books to come up with a plan. And right away she noticed something was missing.
Leslie Priscilla: I had really decided that I wanted to give birth at home. I wanted to breastfeed. I wanted to wear my baby. I wanted to do all these things that, when I was reading about them, I was being told that this was attachment parenting and all of the people that were writing these books on attachment parenting were white people. There’s something missing here. I’m not seeing my culture.
Where are my people in these books? And I’m realizing that there… Those two are so far apart, right? The gentle parenting, the intentional connection to kids, seeing children as sovereign, sacred individuals, seems like the right thing. Why does my family not have that? Why is that not something that I experienced as a child?
Why is that not something that my… That my primos and primas experience as children. They deserve that too, right? And it was very clear to me when my daughter was born, the moment that she was born, she came out and I looked at her and I immediately had this thought of, this is me and I deserve this. I deserve to be looked at in this way.
I am sacred in this way, you know, and something happens to all of us. Along the way that makes us forget that.
Liz: It’s really, it’s really beautiful that you had that, that moment. Um, and I can, of course, relate having a 10-month-old baby daughter, right? It’s seeing your, yourself in them, but also that that deep, insurmountable love that you have for this new being and yet it’s a mirror.
Leslie: Thank you. Yeah, it’s a, it’s a frustrating process, though, because as much as I wanted to preserve that idea about my daughter, I still found myself falling into patterns of not treating her in that way. Right. And so I still found myself yelling or scaring her in, in certain ways, right? And so I always say when we talk about like chancla culture, um, it, the chancla is not just the physical, right? Like it’s the ways that we’re scaring children into submission.
Liz: I’m so glad that you mentioned that because one of my questions that’s circulating for me as you’re talking Leslie, is where does that come from? That concept of dominance and violence, whether it’s verbal or physical, where does that come from?
Leslie: Colonization, girl. Like, it all comes from colonization. And I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that when I first had my daughter. I didn’t know that like, all of the lack of capacity that our family has to recognize that we never deserved violence.
Right? That’s like the main thing that I, when I was working with parents too, is like so many of us in this community really, really have internalized this idea that we deserve punishment, that we deserve violence, that we deserve less than that sacredness. When we get exploited, when we get marginalized, it’s all on par with this very colonial way of living like, “Oh, you’re not going to talk to me that way. You’re not going to say no to me.” That dominance is very much there. And it comes from having been oppressed for 500 years. But on this land, we have clear evidence that children were seen as sacred, that they were seen as worthy of collaborating with the family, and that those things were robbed from us when the Europeans came onto this land and started looking at us the way that they had looked at children for centuries as people who did not speak the language, who were savages. So they started treating us the way that they treated children. This actually goes so much deeper than we thought. And so it’s more than just undoing the 500 years of colonization.
It’s, you know, really replacing these systems entirely with, with our systems of liberation.
Liz: What role do you think fear also plays in how we’re manifesting all of these parenting patterns that we want to do away with?
Leslie: Oh man, fear is like the tool, right? Like if we’re talking about colonization, like what is the tool that colonizers use? It’s, it’s fear, right? It’s, it’s fear of not surviving. Um, and so there’s, there’s multiple ways I think that we can acknowledge fear. I think that, you know, I think about, for example, the privileges that I hold as a lighter skin Latina. And how even for me, like navigating a tantrum, for example, is still challenging, but for a recently migrated Haitian or, uh, Dominican Republic, you know, mother who maybe is here undocumented, um, maybe doesn’t necessarily know the laws.
That experience, somatically, like in the nervous system, for your child to be having a tantrum in a public space is going to generate so much more stress than it would for somebody like me. Like you’re afraid of someone looking at you or somebody making it so that your child is separated from you, right?
So that experience is so different. And so when we think about fear, like we also have to think about how that’s connected to love. It’s like, I love you so much that I’m going to threaten to hit you because I don’t want you separated from me. And that’s what I didn’t see in the parenting books, you know?
I was like, wait a minute. Like, there’s something really, really missing. Like, we are not acknowledging what would actually make it easier for our communities to parent in these ways is if our needs were met. And so much of the need is not met because we don’t feel like we deserve it. We were taught that we deserve violence.
We were taught that exploitation is normal. This is just what you do. This is just what you accept. And so this is why moving away from that kind of parenting where you’re negating your child’s sovereignty is a political act. We knew what we deserved as children. We knew that we deserve better.
Liz: There’s so much to do, but if we do it together, Leslie, I know that we’re, we’re gonna collectively end all of these cycles that are, like you say, hurting our bodies, our minds, but also our spirits.
Leslie: It’s probably not something that’s going to happen in our lifetime. 500 years of colonization is going to take several generations of undoing.
And so I just really want folks to be gentle with themselves so that they can be gentle with their children.
Amy: That’s it for Making Contact today, I’m Amy Gastelum, thanks for hanging out. If you want to learn more about Leslie Priscilla or the Pulso Podcast, visit our website radioproject.org for more information. Until next time.