Warm thoughts from a warm culture

buen provecho.png

In my work, I have the privilege of occasionally traveling to other countries.

I find it very special how in Latin America, people greet each other when they’re eating out – total strangers, even, wishing each other well. Buen provecho: Enjoy your meal. Sometimes just, Provecho.

In fact, they acknowledge each other whenever they are in another person’s presence just in passing, whether in a restaurant, elevator, hallway: good day, good evening, enjoy your meal, whatever. It’s a culture of acknowledgment and recognition.

In a world that’s drowning in devices and distractions, this tradition is a breath of fresh air.

The family ties – they just got stronger

cabello-grocery-store

It may not look like much now, but back in the 1940s and ’50s, this was one in a series of my grandfather’s grocery store locations in Corpus Christi, Texas. My very thoughtful uncle took us on a family history tour of my old hometown — by far, one of my favorite parts of our trip. This little tour deserves a post all its own.

I’ve been trying to figure out this post since before I went out of town a couple of weeks ago. My conclusion: There’s so much to cover, it might just have to be more than one post.

What started out as a long-weekend trip to the Texas coast for a genealogy conference ended up being a full-blown week of a family trip, complete with my mom and my husband and filled with visits with family old and new.

I couldn’t have asked for more (except for a few more visits with family and a couple of good friends).

My biggest takeaway: Don’t let too much time go between visits with family.

Ahp, ahp, ahp, ahp, ahp! I know what you’re thinking.

Who cares if they don’t come to you? Who cares if you do all the traveling? Go to them. It’s my broken record, but we’ve get one shot at family, so we need to make it count.

I’ve had this inner struggle so many times, even holding mini-grudges because no one wants to come see us in beautiful Colorado (whaaa?!).  It’s not really that – it’s that people are comfortable where they are and have a hard time breaking out of their routines.

In the end, though, I know I’ll regret not seeing my family when the opportunity was there to enjoy them. So basically, suck it up, Nydia. That was my lesson. Because in the end…nothing else matters.

So. About the conference.

Not exactly a Zombies convention (whew!)

It was fun to be with people of kindred spirit at the Spanish American Genealogy Association’s (SAGA) 37th Annual Texas State Hispanic Genealogical and Historical Conference (that’s a mouthful, no?).

I mean, we were all there because we were interested in our dead people. Not in a Zombie-fest kind of way, but with a real desire to honor our ancestors by learning more about them and their lives – and how we connect to them.

Many shared the interests of looking deeper into their family trees, learning about everything from:

  • the context of their ancestors’ lives through the study of history,
  • the evolution of the Spanish language in the Americas, to
  • Jewish heritage among Latinos (it’s true – I’m one of them),
  • land grant research techniques and, the big one:
  • DNA (even though there was only one DNA session – surely to grow next year).
img_1467

Pardon the big ol’ chairs photo-bombing as earrings. Wanted to show off this hand-stitched masterpiece of a blouse.

I also bought this beautiful Oaxacan blouse from a pair of really talented and inspiring women, both retired educators and administrators, who showed the audience creative ways to pass along our culture and heritage to future generations. This was one of their imports.

Belonging gives us a sense of family

It was important for me to come away with a stronger sense of belonging to a group with shared interests, so I joined Las Villas del Norte, a genealogy group with ties to northeastern Mexico and South Texas, the originating areas of my recent ancestors. Coupled with my membership in the Facebook groups Mexican Genealogy and We Are Cousins, it’s easy to say these groups feel like family. No – familia.

I also may (re)join Los Bexareños Genealogical and Historical Society after, what, a 25-year membership lapse? Based out of San Antonio, their study of the families of Coahuila, Mexico gave my research the boost it needed early on, and their research into northeastern Mexico is quite extensive.

Remember print and books and stuff?

One thing I heard at the conference is that much genealogical info can be still be found only in books and other print volumes. It may be more time-consuming in terms of research, but it could be crucial to breaking down brick walls. Duly noted.

One very cool thing I learned, in a first-time meeting: Boy, can strong family features jump lines! My mom and I met a not-too-distant cousin from her side of the family – and this very kind gentlemen looked so much like one of my brothers, it nearly floored me. Now we’re connected with a part of the family we’d never known before.

We met several other “new” relatives, too. I’ll talk more about them in another post.

It was a far more productive trip than I’d imagined – a real gift. I hope writing about it will help me sort it all out.

A good leader is a good follower

thomas-paine-writer-quote-lead-follow-or-get-out-of-theYou’ve probably seen this famous quote somewhere along the way.

It seems, in most group dynamics, we each fall into one of these three categories. Either we lead, follow, or … we’re one of “them.” Suffice it to say: anyone behind the leader is presumed to be a follower.

Alpha-Beta Pug

We used to have a cute little black Pug. Before Pugs were cool, people thought – especially when we took this little porker on hikes – we had a pot-bellied pig. Can’t say I blamed them.

Anyway, we took her hiking and camping a lot. Funny thing is, being “Alpha dog” (my translation: only dog), she saw herself as behind my hubby (her alpha) and in front of me (her slave and gamma, at best).

So there we would be, in the middle of some trail somewhere, and I would be fighting for my spot behind my long-legged, fast-walking husband…with an animal the size of a wind-up doll power-playing me right out of 2nd place.

It ticked. Me. Off.

Until my husband and I had the discussion and discovered the relationship between his pooch and his wife. We concluded that, whether animal or human, we are either the one in charge, or we aren’t. There’s really no in-between. In this case, I was definitely not the leader. I wasn’t even the one behind the leader.

And that was OK. We all fill our “roles,” right?

It depends. Some followers may blissfully happy following and making their best contributions in that way. But a good leader also needs to know how to be a good follower. (The above is not one of those examples, by the way.) In my experience, the best leaders know how and when to follow.

It’s a big part of letting other people find their own leadership ability.

Lighten the leadership load.

I saw another interesting quote the other day on leadership. It went something like this: “When the leadership load is lightened, great things really start to happen.”

It didn’t quite click then.

In this context, though, it makes sense. The more leaders are OK following now and then, the more great stuff happens. The more they delegate, the more leaders they produce. In today’s world, that’s the sign of a great future.

Drop in the bucket: Mad Men post mortem

om-don-draper-finale2

Don finds peace. He also finds the idea the for a new :60 Coca Cola spot that makes history. I already miss this character.

On one hand, it’s hard to sum up Mad Men the day after the series finale. On the other hand, it’s hard not to. So I’ve decided to join the fray with the other half-million reviewers / mourners.

Because let’s face it. There are a ton of post-finale recaps out as of yesterday, including these:

Funny: At least two of the above end with some version of “It’s the real thing.” Sigh.

Interesting:

  • Peggy and Joan each sought career and sometimes love. Joan thought she’d landed one of each, only to end up choosing career over traditional love. Peggy got both.

    PeggyatMcCann

    Funny, how when you let things go a bit, they seem to come back together. Couldn’t resist including this image of Peggy, who is right there.

  • Don finally got clarity, however fleeting — although, it seemed long enough to crank out the legendary Coca-Cola commercial promoting world peace.
  • What does Roger care anymore? He’s had a stellar career, so he settles into l’amour.
  • Pete, lucky dog, gets his wife and kid back and keeps that lucrative gig with McCann.
  • Betty – dang it – love or hate her, has a death sentence hanging over her, though I’d expect her to find her way out so as not to put her children through watching their mother die.

Surprising: The show ends in hope. Hope that Don can somehow make something of the name and identity he’d assumed, and maybe even be a more present father in his children’s lives (really?). Hope that the world could be a better place (the Coke commercial).

I’ve gotta say: I fully expected a European turn for the worst – someone’s tragedy, a la Downton Abbey, where someone seems to die in nearly every season finale. To me, the hopeful ending makes Mad Men a new, true, all-American classic.

All in all, Mad Men, while set in the presumably sexy advertising business, isn’t much about the ad biz at all. It’s really about the existential questions of the ’60s and ’70s. Is this all there is? Are we all alone? (At Big Sur, Don learns – finally – he’s not.)

The aches of those questions and their answers were real and often frustrating during the series, which easily could have ended more tragically. But the idealist in me is glad Weiner chose hope for the final note.

Still, I cannot tell a lie: I will miss seeing that Don Draper face and wanting to know the thoughts behind his dark eyes.

So long, Mad Men – until the next binge.

There is life after a layoff

doctor-is-inIt has been a week.

A number of my friends and former colleagues were laid off. Some saw it coming, but I think many didn’t.

And just like that, it felt like old times. Having an open door, (OK, a phone, texting and Facebook) being the sounding board, fielding lots of questions. Why? Who? When? How?

In the end, when a layoff happens to you, all that really matters is What.

Having been there not once, but three times – twice in the last few years – it’s hard not to feel their pain. And surprisingly, at first it was hard not to relive my own.

Thankfully, getting to the other side does happen. It takes time, healing, rest, resetting and, most importantly, getting back up and dusting ourselves off.

Also in there somewhere , but absolutely necessary, is re-prioritizing. Values change, focus changes and, eventually, we learn how to negotiate back into our lives the prerequisite margin we need to live life fully – preferably more fully than before.

Ultimately, though, we have to be there for each other. Not only would I never wish a layoff on someone the way they happen these days. I wouldn’t wish on anyone to go through it alone.

So close and yet so far

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 5.31.44 PMI felt like I was at a library of obscure books the other night when I googled “Coahuila, Mexico.” You know, so I can learn more about why, oh, why I can’t find my great-grandfather Braulio or any of his compadres.

But wow – the books I came up with, most of which are out of print or so rare you couldn’t possibly find them in any library or bookstore, are a treasure trove of (presumable) context and insight.

I’ve learned recently to search for obscure book topics or titles in Google Play, but who knew I’d come across stuff like this?

So I’m kind of overwhelmed now by what could either be a treasure trove (glass half-full) or a bunch more needles in my haystack (glass half-empty). The mind is getting weary and I might just be sucking my positive juice dry.

Now, if I could just find a book that can tell me what the heck happened to Saltillo parish records from the mid-19th century – a fire, flood, some disaster? – I might have more of a lead of what was going on in those days and whether it’s my great-grandfather who’s “missing” or just his records.

For now, a little spittle on a test strip for DNA-by-mail is going to have to do.

How I met Braulio … at Trader Joe’s

Vintage Trader Joe's signI was making a quick grocery trip today to our fairly new Trader Joe’s (finally, we’re a legit mid-size city). About to part ways with my checkout guy, I spotted his name tag: BRAULIO.

Naturally, I asked him about it. I mean, the same name as my great-grandfather – what are the chances?

We chatted about where he’s from, where my great-grandfather Braulio was from, and the origins of their shared name.

I wasn’t smart enough to take a selfie with the college-y looking Braulio (although I might try in the future).

But, I can say I met a Braulio. At Trader Joe’s.

While I’d love to claim I’d found my Braulio, it’s far too early for “mission accomplished.” Maybe it was a sign of some kind. Maybe my breakthrough is coming.

Aaaand we’re back – back to Braulio

Marriage record for Mariano Cavello and Ambrosia Lesa

Ay, ay, ay.

I think I could be doing this for a long time – this one family member.

It’s OK though. In a month of Aha! moments, I’ll take any clarity on my ancestors I can get.

And whoa is me, I’ve been running down the wrong trail for quite sometime. U-turn!

So why didn’t I think of this before? My paternal great-grandfather Braulio Cabello remains a mystery, but there are two big (I think) hints that have stared me in the face for sometime:

  1. His marriage record cites a Mariano Cavello (Cabello) as his father and Ambrosia Lesa his mother.
  2. His death record, however, cites an Anastacio Cabello as his father and, again, Ambrosia Lesa as his mother. Anastacio (Anastasio), more often than not, goes down in the record books as his dad.

Braulio’s birth/christening record is still AWOL, but now I’m motivated to give it another go by (re)starting with what I already “know.” Even if there’s a discrepancy around his father, it’s one I know about.

This critical link, after all, means we might – juuuuust might – tie back to the founders of San Antonio. There’s lots of cool stuff in that. Maybe we also founded Mi Tierra restaurant. A girl can dream.

Right under my nose

For too long I assumed Braulio’s different father names was just a discrepancy. (What?! Silly me.) Aside from seeing the other side of my family (my mom’s side) and the drama that can happen in the name of love, I also know marriage customs then weren’t what they are now.

For example, when a woman was widowed, often she would marry her brother-in-law. Not sure that’s what happened here (other way around), but now I know exactly where to go and what to do next. I am determined to find out.

And I. Can’t. Wait!

And we thought blogging was risky business

meerkat on yellow backgroundAs if life with social media weren’t real-time enough. I never thought I’d be curious enough to jump into video, let alone real-time video.

For the moment, I’m not. Not personally, anyway. Heck, I hardly take selfies, much less video of any kind. But I am fascinated by emerging technologies and their potential uses.

I’m sure the response to live video tweeting tools is something like it was back when blogs and social media were winding up, especially in corporate environments:

  • Too risky: Who’s gonna control outgoing content?
  • Too raw: Great. Now we need another editor.
  • Too transparent: The execs will never let us do it.

And yet, just like social media, opportunities abound. If your marketing or communication needs call for the immediacy of video, it’s official: the tools are here.

The space is definitely evolving, but between Vine (edited), Meerkat and Periscope (both real-time), a few practical ideas that come to mind are:

  • Conferences, concerts, sporting events: Real-time action & “reporting” (I cringe to use the term, but hey, these tools make citizen reporters of us all, with or without contextual info)
  • Farmers (or any) markets: Stream what’s at market – today only
  • Flash sales: Discounts on new or limited inventory; viewer-only discounts
  • Restaurants/Food Trucks/Food Service/Cooking Classes: Watch it being made; drive instant traffic
  • Disaster response & fundraising: Show what it’s like “on the ground” (depends on availability of communications services, which can be a tall order in a crisis)
  • Oh and of course – law enforcement. Can’t forget that.

The possibilities are really endless and don’t necessarily have to be invasive or high-risk, although for those of us unaccustomed to putting our entire lives out there, this can feel pretty voyeuristic.

Some folks will “go there” and it will be interesting to see how responsible users will be. But I’m more excited to see how this space matures and the good things it has the potential to do. My mind’s wheels are definitely turning.

“I just want her to be somebody.”

Painting of woman in pink dress holding yellow and white flowers

Meet Esperanza*. She’s a wannabe.

Well, kind of. I believe the artist actually wanted her to be like the girl in this Fernando Botero painting. Her proportions are similar to a Botero, but Esperanza appears notably more Caribbean.

I bought her for USD$50 at the foot of the hill where the original Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, used to be perched. (Here’s the Montana today, rebuilt after the massive 7.0 earthquake in 2010, which killed more than 250,000 people and which I still can hardly talk about. Maybe soon.)

Anyway, that trip was my first trip to the developing world – and, surprisingly, my only trip to Haiti (hopefully not my last).

Learning to tell stories
It was where I began learning from the best — like photojournalist Chuck Bigger — things like the composition of a great photo. It’s where I learned how to gather and tell an organization’s story from the point of view of its “customers” — those who benefited from its services.

It’s where my eyes were opened to the many opportunities we take for granted in the United States and developed world. It’s a hard truth, but a truth nonetheless: Most of the world is not born into opportunity like Americans are.

Common ground
But parents everywhere still want the same for their children – to be healthy, to be loved, to belong, to have a better life than they had.

I can’t tell you how many mothers or caregivers I’ve interviewed who only ever wanted their children to grow up to be successful. When we would ask what their dreams were for their child, most replies inevitably included:

“I just want her to be somebody.”

I used to think that meant they thought their children weren’t “somebody” already. But I believe it’s more that the child’s potential hadn’t yet been uncovered. When it was, stories changed. Families changed. Futures changed.

For some families, it may mean a child has completed primary school and can work in the local market selling goods that help the family with income (not an ideal situation but certainly a real one). Or a high school education, which may mean a more technical vocation. A university education means a young person can become “a professional,” with a sustainable income to support even an extended family, including education for siblings and others.

Children are the key
When a child’s potential is developed, they become somebody who can bring health and hope a family hasn’t seen, lifting them out of poverty. And it doesn’t stop there. It ripples out to the community too, and sometimes even nations.

That’s why I call Esperanza a wannabe. Because I believe she wants to be somebody. Maybe somebody like a Botero – only better.

*Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. This painting was named by my talented friend Kris, who kindly stretched the canvas she’s painted on. The canvas, by the way, is reused upholstery fabric.