Latinx? I am a Latina, LA-TI-NA

America is a country I love so much. However, at times its “political correctness” gets to the point in which you cannot express your opinion freely without offending somebody. So they keep trying to reinvent the wheel by changing the names of races, physical conditions, and even communities. That is the case of Latinx, the “new” word to refer to us, Latinos. However, who asked us Latinos what are our pronouns or what we would like to be called? Latinx seems a term from outer space. Imagine this conversation:

-Which planet are you from?

-I’m Latinx. How about you? Are you Americanx?

The fact that so many words have been adapted into making everyone feel accepted can result in confusing terms not only for foreigners, but also for Americans. A few years ago, for example, I entered a women’s store and left frustrated because I couldn’t find anything my size even though the store was stocked with the latest fashions. When I saw the words “curvy”, and “women sizes” I got excited I was finally going to find pants and skirts to fit my very rounded behind. I later realized “women” and “curvy” are the “new” words to describe heavy set females.

Likewise, the first time I saw the word Latinx in a document, I emailed my boss to tell her there was a typo; then she revealed “the truth”. Latinx is a new term so one part of the population doesn’t feel excluded. More excluded? How? The United States is closing its borders, our president calls us all “Mexicans”, rapists, and thieves. I think that train already left the station, so calling us Latinx doesn’t make us feel any more welcomed or rejected.

We Latinos do have a way of including everybody though. In written form we use the @ symbol to refer to males and females; as in Latin@s, amig@s (friends), or compañer@s (partners), since the @ looks like an o and an a at the same time. We do this only in informal settings though. Nevertheless, in spoken form we still use the terms Latinos, Latinas, Latino, and Latina. And these are the words I have been hearing from my Latin American friends living in the United States as well.

Part of my job requires to make surveys and when I have asked a Latin@ if they identify themselves as Latinx, invariably, they have hesitated. They’ve stopped to ask, “What is Latinx?” After a brief explanation, they chuckle pointing out at the ridiculousness of that word.

My college professors always emphasized, Go to the source. So I did. La Real Academia Española, Diccionario de Americanismos. I typed Latinx. The result: La palabra latinx no está registrada en este diccionario (The word latinx is not registered in this dictionary). Same result for the Spanish Dictionary.

Then I went to the other source. Oxford Dictionary:

La·tin·x

/ˌlaˈtēˌneks/

noun

1.a person of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or nonbinary alternative to Latino or Latina): “The books share stories of the civil rights struggle for African Americans, Latinxs, and LGBTQ people.”

In the example above, I saw another leg of the word. It can be plural! I’m going to need to hear the pronunciation of this one soon.

In my opinion, we don’t need a gender-neutral nonbinary word to refer to us. America, first, fix the chart of races in which a Latino can’t be Black and vice versa. Also, delete the words Latino and Hispanic from race since these words refer to origin and language, and there is a variety of races in the Latin American countries.

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Countries of origin from left to right: Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico. (Photo by José G. Vázquez)

Latinos come in a variety of colors. We have been colonized by the Germans, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. During the Atlantic slave trade, Latin America was the main destination of millions of African people transported from Africa to French, Portuguese, and Spanish colonies. Slavery’s legacy is the presence of large Afro-Latino populations. After the gradual emancipation of most black slaves, slavery continued along the Pacific coast of South America throughout the 19th century.

If you ask me, I will say I am a Latina, and I am also Black. One category doesn’t exclude the other, and both are correct terms to refer to my origin and my race. I am proudly part of the traveling exhibition NUEVOlution: Latinos and the New South that started at the Levine Museum in Charlotte, NC, and has traveled to Birmingham, AL, and is now in Atlanta, GA.

The word Latinx just comes to complicate the already complicated definitions and categories that have been assigned to us. Although eventually, this is a term we will have to accept since surely it will be part not only of surveys, but job and college applications, and daily conversations. However, in the meantime, and while we still can say it, WE ARE LATINOS! Period.

* This article reflects my opinion and the opinions of some people I know.

Transferring Money By Myself

I had talked about my multiple attempts to transfer money from China to the US. Now I was going to try the “easy” way.

Setting Up Online Banking

Our coordinator (who had convinced me that transferring money would be easier and cheaper if I did it online) took me to the bank because each time I had tried to set up my online banking the page opened in Chinese, stopped working a few minutes later, or didn’t open at all. Once inside, the coordinator spoke in Chinese to one of the tellers who was texting, the other one was having a conversation on the phone, but they both were “helping” me set up my online account. They didn’t invite us to sit at an office, we were all standing at one of the counters, cell phone in one hand, and a kind of pager they gave me in the other hand. Clients came, they talked to them, then came back to the coordinator, who at the same time, gave me the short version of what they were asking. “Enter your password,” which I had to do about 12 times, then check for a message from the bank on my phone, enter that pin, and the numbers they sent to the pager. They warned me I needed my phone and the pager every time I wanted to make an online transfer . They logged out and asked me to log in. And it worked! But everything was in Chinese. The coordinator said I could change it into English and do my transfers online from now on. “So I don’t need to come back to the bank!” I said excitedly.

-No, you still need to come to buy dollars.

-And how much can I buy at once?

-$500.

“Then this was a waste of time. I’ll still need to come to the bank twice before I can send money to the US, by then it will be at least the 12th of the month and the transaction takes 3 to 4 days!” I almost yelled. “Yes, but you won’t have to pay as much and you won’t need a Chinese teacher to come with you!” The coordinator almost yelled back.

It was the 10th of the month so I told them I needed to buy the first 500 dollars immediately. “You don’t have enough funds.” “But it’s the 10th! The school has to deposit our salary on the 10th!” The coordinator said they would make the deposit later that day.

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The First Transaction

Saturday afternoon I went to the bank to buy the first U$500 with a feeling of independence, knowing I wouldn’t need any help or intrusion again. I filled out the two forms they gave me, then sat in front of the clerk’s window, gave her the forms, passport, and bank card. She grabbed everything together, wrinkled the forms, folded my passport, then tossed everything in front of her. I swallowed. That’s my passport. She reviewed every page for a long time, opened my passport, the American page… the Chinese visa… and tossed it again. “Sorry, again this paper, please.” She gave me back one of the forms. When I gave her the forms back, she didn’t shred the old one, just tore it up in half. She kept looking at my passport, her computer screen, and occasionally talked to another teller. “You changed your passport?” She asked.

“No this is the only passport I’ve had.”

“You renewed your passport recently maybe?”

“No, this is my only American passport, never changed it, never renewed it.”

“Sorry, there is problem. Please go next teller.”

The Next Teller

The female client seated at the next counter was open-mouth chomping her lunch hard while watching a loud video on her cell phone, no earphones. The client that had the next number stood quickly in front of me and I moved to the side anticipating a fight. Fortunately, her number began flashing on the other window and I could have access to the teller who repeated the sequence. Looked at my passport, turned the pages, looked at the screen… In the end, the purchase of the first 500 dollars was successful. I left. Tired.

The Second Transaction

Our coordinator let me go to the bank on Monday morning. I arrived twenty minutes before they opened. I was alone standing at the bank gate when the bank’s armored truck parked in front of me. After they were inside for a few minutes I risked to enter, but one of the tellers told me to wait until the guards finished unloading the money. They left and three more people came and stood behind me. I appreciated them respecting me being there first, until the woman who was second stepped inside the bank. I yelled, “Hey, I was here first!” She stepped back, but stood in front of me. I looked at her and told her again, “I was here first!” signaling to stand behind me with my left thumb. She nodded, but didn’t move. Immediately after we got the green light, she rushed to the ticket machine, printed ticket number one, gave me ticket number two, and sat down! I was astonished! How did she dare!? I wish I knew the Chinese words to tell her to f#@&#$ herself!! But, I don’t curse, so I’m glad I know so little Mandarin right now. For a moment I thought, they’d open at least two windows so we’d make our respective transactions at the same time. But they only opened one. She went first, and she had a big withdrawal to make. I saw the packages of money being given to her and I was seeing red because I couldn’t believe this woman had cut in front of me so “smoothly.” My turn came twenty minutes later. I could buy the $500, but I was furious.  I went to the gym and after that, I needed a little retail therapy.

The Transfer

I opened the bank’s website, but as in previous attempts, it closed a few minutes later. I was using my VPN (the one I need to make my internet access private and be able to open Yahoo and Facebook), but since it was a Chinese site I decided to open it without the VPN, and it worked, but it didn’t accept my address, ergo, I couldn’t make the transfer. I asked our coordinator for help, she changed the language to Chinese and started to type, which made me feel I had lost control again. It didn’t work for her either. I had to make 162 progress reports, print them, and sign them, I really didn’t have time for her to try, and try unsuccessfully. I told her to stop though she truly wanted to help, but it was precious time I didn’t have.

I went back to the bank with my laptop. I was standing when one teller opened the site for me. The other tellers came by the bucketload to see what she was doing, comment and laugh among them. Another client came, he started making his transaction, I moved my computer to the side so this client wouldn’t see my information, but the teller didn’t catch on that as she even showed this client that she was trying to do my transfer. I was transpiring and breathing fast. The lack of privacy in China is unbelievable.

The transfer was done, but the fee was the same as if I had made two transactions. In other words, having online banking is worth nothing, I went to the bank 4 times, wasted money and time, stressed out… Why on Earth would my coordinator tell me it would be cheaper and easier?

This is too much. I need to go back to work now, but this weekend, more retail therapy it is!

How to Transfer Money from China to the USA… Part 2

In a previous blog, I had talked about my attempts to open an account at the Construction Bank of China because in America they’d assured I could transfer money from that bank directly to my account at little to no charge. I only needed to bring a tax certificate and my passport, but the tax certificate would be granted only after my first salary had been deposited, which happened on October 10th in the afternoon, and since Elina, our coordinator, had told me I could have it that day, I asked her on October 11th.

Ninth Attempt

Elina said that in order for me to get the tax certificate I needed a copy of my passport. Unfortunately two weeks before, Linda, the school finance/international/foreign affairs person, had asked me for my passport to apply for my one year work visa, and gave me a receipt that would act like a legal document for the time being. I found a copy of the passport in my email and printed it, but I had bought a ticket to go to Taiwan so I needed my passport back asap, for which Linda requested the passport receipt, so now I had neither.

I asked for permission to go to the bank after having been working for 8 consecutive days, once there I asked if anyone spoke English though I had a note in Chinese from Elina, sat in front of the first teller who said a little, and handed the note to her. She asked if I had American dollars in my account. “No, I only need to transfer money to my account in the United States.” She asked something to the other teller, then turned back to me, “For transferring money to the US you need dollars.” “Take the dollars out of my account then.” “Do you have dollars or yuan in your account?” “I work for a school here, they pay me with yuan.” “Oh, no. You need dollars.” The other teller intervened with a combination of Chinese and English; then my teller asked, “How much do you need to transfer?” “$1,000.” “You can’t transfer 1,000 dollars. In China, only 500 dollars a day.” “Okay then.” Another teller approached, he told me to give him my passport. I answered that my boss had my passport to get my work visa, but I had my bank card. He said, “We can do it with the receipt.” “My boss has the receipt too because I asked her for my passport, for traveling purposes.” We all smiled uncomfortably. Then one of them asked, “Do you have a Chinese friend? A foreigner can transfer $500, but a Chinese person can transfer $1,000” “Oh, excellent! Do you want to be my Chinese friend?” I joked. They said they were sorry they couldn’t help me.wp-1479367977589.jpg

10th Attempt

The next morning I explained everything to Elina emphasizing the Chinese friend part. She looked flustered, “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. A Chinese person can only transfer 50,000 dollars a year and I already used my transfers.” “Do you know any Chinese person who can help me?” I inquired desperately. “I’m going to ask Mr. Cho, our director. If he hasn’t used his $50,000 maybe he can go with you.” She left and returned with Mr. Cho. Much Chinese was spoken, then both left and came back with a third person. “Funn Yi will meet you at the school gate at 7:50 am tomorrow, and she has a car.” I grinned, said thank you in Chinese, Funn Yi left and I turned to ask Elina if I still needed my passport even though I was going with a Chinese person. Another teacher interjected, “Yes!” But Elina said there was no need if I was going with a Chinese citizen; however, during lunch she said I’d better ask Linda for my passport just in case. I texted Linda, and hours later she responded,  “I plan to go get it tomorrow morning because I have some work to do this afternoon.” I started to pray that showing up at the bank with a Chinese person would give me enough credentials to finally transfer the money to my American account.

11th Is A Charm!

Once Funn Yi and I arrived at the Bank of China I started to speak:

-I need to transfer money to my bank in the US, and I come with a Chinese person to help me.

-How much do you need to transfer?

-$1,000.

-You can only transfer 500.

-I know, but she can transfer 1,000.

-Is your money in her account?

-No, I have my money in my account.

-The money needs to be in her account for her to transfer.

Oh gosh… I didn’t even know this person and I had to put my money in her account?

“Okay.” The teller took both our debit cards and started working. Then he looked up, “Sorry, the printer is not working so I write your transfer here” on a paper with a carbon copy. What can I do? I’m in another country. Trusting God is my only alternative. He asked Funn Yi to enter her password a few times, then I had to enter mine, after which he announced, “Your money is in her account.” Funn Yi had to go to get a ticket for the 1,000 dollars, at her return we started transferring the money. I had to provide my American account number and SWIFT code (I had asked at school what this was, and very solemnly my co-worker answered, “Well, it’s a code they have at the bank and they call it ‘swift'” Really!?) I also had to provide my bank address. The teller continued working in front of his screen, kept typing on the computer, and scribbling on paper.  Stopped to make me aware the transfer would cost 200 yuan, the equivalent of 30 dollars; then gave me the hand written receipt and told me to wait 4 to 5 days for the transaction to show in my statement.

Three days later, the money was in my American bank, and I was happy, but there had to be another way. Our coordinator says it’ll be easier and cheaper once I set up my online banking. In the meantime, I have asked her again for my tax certificate. This week she gave me back all the documents I had provided. “They can’t give you the tax certificate yet, maybe in December.”

TIC (This Is China)…

Cultural Literacy for Latinos 101

“Cultural Literacy is the ability to understand and participate fluently in a given culture.” (E.D Hirsch)

Now that I am getting ready to be a panelist for NUEVOlution at the Levine Museum of the New South, I started asking myself what cultural literacy means. I read some excerpts and have found a variety of quizzes to test if you are culturally literate. These and my life experience helped me elaborate on what cultural literacy signifies to a Latino/a like me. Here are my own props after 11 years of living in the United States. This is personal (hopefully universal), but feel free to leave your opinion in the comment section.

Learn the Language

Jose at libraryBefore moving to North Carolina I learned everything I could about the American culture because even though I didn’t know about the term “cultural literacy” I knew how important it was to blend, listen, and be understood.

However, no matter how many movies and books you watch and read, I believe cultural literacy is something you acquire only when you have the physical experience of living in a different country for a period of time. I consider language as one of the main aspects of being culturally literate, though it surely extends beyond that.

“To have a second language is to have a second soul,” said Charles the Great. Language is intertwined with culture, customs, and world views. At the beginning I found it exhausting to speak in English all the time because as well as being involved in physical activity, by speaking in a second language your brain is working out, therefore it will need intervals of rest. Don’t feel frustrated, relax, take time apart, and start afresh the next day. Remember, people love it when you make the effort of learning their language, and some even find accents sexy! ☺

Use Polite Words & Expressions

When I had just arrived I heard people saying thank you, please, excuse me and sorry quite often. In my culture we might pass in front of or by another person without saying a word or by pushing gently if the space is narrow. If there is enough camaraderie we may say, “Move!” but all these little words from the American culture seemed unnecessary to me. We tend to be more  to the point. If you need something from the counter and there’s someone standing too close to what you need, you extend your hand to reach it and move on. But here in the US that is considered rude. So you need to make a conscious effort to use these words frequently. It’s the same when you are asking for a favor whether in person or by email. It’s not enough to say, “I need you to do this.” You will have greater chances of getting a positive response to your petition if you say something like, “I know you’re busy, but this thing came up and I was wondering if you would mind _____. I would truly appreciate it”

Make Sure You Know Your Way Around

In Colombia there is plenty of public transportation and the streets are numbered. You don’t even have to walk too far to a bus stop because any corner will do, as far as the bus driver can see you stretching your arm and flapping your hand. Now, you are in NC and you bought a car. The GPS is a fantastic device to get you anywhere by following that sensual voice. It wasn’t like that 11 years ago though. I knew how to get to work and back home and that was pretty much it. For other errands or gatherings I used to ask my friends and co-workers to give me a ride. They were all kind enough to drive me from and to where I needed to be, but this can become burdensome if months pass by and you are still relying on other people to be your chauffer. Carolinians are extremely kind people, but they also appreciate independence. Do your homework. Only ask for a ride if you absolutely need it, and a little tip: If you are carpooling, let’s say to a Church Retreat in Myrtle Beach or a concert in Asheville pitch in with gas money, it’s a nice gesture, and they’d be happy to carpool with you again.

Be a Good Tipper or at least Be a Tipper

Bernard in CartagenaThis takes us to restaurants, beauty parlors, taxis, etc. People from Colombia are used to paying the check, period. Even in local and fast food restaurants there is no obligation for you to leave a tip to your server since tipping is usually reserved for more upscale places. As for beauty parlors, taxis, massage therapists, and hotels (room service or housekeeping) we don’t even think about it. However, in the US it is expected that you give a tip for every service received (even medical, they usually add a 500% tip in hidden fees ☺). This could be, but not limited to, getting your dog groomed, carpet cleaning, manicures, pedicures, car wash… You name it, if there is a server involved tip him/her 15-20%.

Wash Your Hands Often

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Sign found in a school restroom in Charlotte, NC

Colombians are used to buying food in the street, we handle money, the vendor receives it, serves you the scrumptious food, and none of the involved in the transaction washes their hands in between nor before. And no matter if you come from a rich or a poor background, in Colombia there are unannounced water cuts so we don’t think about washing our hands as often because we think of saving water as more important. North Carolina is a different story. You must wash your hands before eating, after blowing out your nose, after pumping gas into your car, after petting your dog, before feeding your family, before sitting at the table, and obviously after using the bathroom. Don’t feel guilty about wasting water; killing germs is the issue. If you aren’t near a sink, keep a little bottle of hand sanitizer with you and use it as needed. And a side note; handkerchiefs are disgusting. American people (as far as I have observed) don’t comprehend why we blow out our nose and put the snot back in our pocket. If you have a handkerchief, use it only next to your lapel, it is the only way it will be appreciated.

Be On Time

Yes. Colombians have our personal time zone and expect everybody else to be in there as well. Our schedule might be between 5 minutes to two hours off, but we expect you to understand and not make a big deal about it. I apologize for myself and my fellow citizens. At least in my case, this has been one of the hardest habits to break, but yes we can! A little tip: Plan to arrive to your appointments/dates 30 minutes earlier, you’ll probably arrive just in time taking into account everything that could happen between you getting ready and leaving your house. Try it for 21 days, that’s all it takes to create a habit! Your friends and coworkers will thank you for that and all their plans will run more smoothly.

Follow Dress Code

Colombian women are sexy, it goes without saying. Men love when we arrive to the work place with our tight clothes and high heels, but this might represent a big issue for your boss and female counterparts. Turn it down a notch. You still can look very nice without showing too much cleavage and/or legs. Distractions in the work place should not happen because of you. For an office party or a social gathering, ask if you are unsure. If you think you don’t have anything appropriate to wear ask a good friend if you could borrow a few pieces of clothing, or simply go shopping (if your budget is tight, go to a thrift store; depending on the neighborhood, you’ll find absolutely amazing deals just for a few bucks!) Don’t try to make a good impression. Make the best impression always!

The Pedestrian Has the Right of Way. I Repeat, The Pedestrian Has the Right of Way

In our country we respect the size and metallic power of a vehicle. Because we know it can cause irreparable damage to our bodies we rush to cross the street not without looking both sides before the short race. In NC though pedestrians are more laid back, so you as a driver has to stop and give them all the time they need. I know, I know, I know, some pedestrians take the latter to heart and cross slowly while texting or chatting with their friends, or they don’t look before crossing forcing you to make sudden stops. Well, here is when yoga comes in handy. Breathe, and Ommmm…

Appreciate, Cherish, & Respect the Free Stuff

This is a little note for my international students: America gives you FREE K-12 education, and pretty soon you will also be able to obtain an associates degree for free! If we had free education in Colombia we certainly would be a better country, crime would be reduced exponentially, people would look into the future with a new hope. Unfortunately, we have too many children in the streets, either working forced labor or panhandling. In the US though children find a shelter at school. You have free breakfast and lunch, free pencils, free paper, free textbooks, free instruction, and friends! I know many scholars think that coming from a low income family they won’t be able to pay for college, but if they build an excellent school history colleges and universities will be knocking at their door begging them to enroll in their institutions! This is truly why the United States is the land of opportunity, but you have to make it happen.

Embrace Your Culture and the Others’

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Carnival of Barranquilla

This is a note for my fellow American citizens. We Latinos are loud, extremely friendly, we kiss and hug everybody, we are direct, we make a party of every occasion, and we might not be always on time, but we love your country and we are here to make it better, richer, more colorful and joyful. Accept our differences and similarities. At this point in time America is experiencing an amazing symbiosis, genetically, linguistically, culturally, and the result is a wonderful melting pot. We mix, we melt, we emerge into something different and better. Likewise there are hundreds of other cultures in the mix. Just go to the supermarket and you will hear at least five different languages, and find a variety of skin colors, and demeanors. Embrace the change, embrace the people. There is no other choice.

I would love to hear your opinions. In which ways do you feel you have changed in order to be culturally literate, or have the country changed you in any way? Do you know some people who have not “submit” to the culture at all after having lived in the US for many years?

Looking forward to responding to your comments!

Un abrazo inmenso y que Dios los bendiga (An immense hug and may God bless you).

Salud! ☺