kindness of strangers

I was talking to a co-worker today about my little car adventure on Saturday, the one after the Maná concert. We started to compare kindness of strangers stories and it occurred to me that I have relied on strangers to come to my rescue on many, many different situations.

I was living in Atlanta . . . well, I was living in Smyrna, which is technically outside Atlanta, but I still call that period living in Atlanta. Anyway, I was driving to my job as Assistant Manager of the a hair salon and my car just died. No stutter. No warning. It just died. In the middle of traffic in a two lane, two way street. I have to admit that I’m ignorant when it comes to cars. And no, that isn’t because I’m female. It comes mostly from being brought up in a house where nobody was really into cars, not even my Dad. So my car has just stopped and I didn’t have the faintest idea what to do. A car stopped and two guys got out and volunteered to help me. It’s sad to say that I never even bothered to get their names. They pushed my car into a parking lot and waited with me until the tow truck got there. I thanked them profusely.

One Christmas, about six years ago, my younger sister (who is now married) and I were in México with our family. We were out there for the first time in four years for a funeral. A good friend of ours invited us to go to Monterrey with her to spend the day and come back with her brother later that evening. That’s the equivalent of going into the city for the day, you take the bus out the morning and you take the bus back in the evening. We figured it would be a good idea. And we kind of wanted to get away from the funeral atmosphere of el pueblito, so we went. And found out that our friend didn’t warn her brother that we were going and there wasn’t room in his car for the ride back. So they dropped us off at the bus station so that my sister and I could go back that way. Except it was Christmas Eve and the bus was sold out. And we panicked. Our friend had already left and we really didn’t know anybody else out there. What the hell were we supposed to do? This very nice woman had overheard us whining to each other and stepped in to save the day. She told us that if we went to the little bus stop just outside the city they would sell us tickets to go standing up. We just had to get to the bus stop. And that meant taking the inner city buses all the way out there. Then she volunteered to take us out there. My sister and I kindly refused, mostly out of polite courtesy than anything else, because it would have been out of her way. But she insisted and we didn’t want to spend the night in Monterrey. So she took us to a bus stop, got on the bus with us, got off at the little bus stop and took us in to buy our tickets. She refused to accept any money for her help, only taking a reimbursement for her bus fare. She told us that if we really wanted to thank her, the next time we saw someone in need we should remember that a stranger helped us out and do the same.

I had borrowed my sister’s Mommy-mobile, a minivan she bought just after my niece was born. I was in college and interning at the City of Houston. The Mommy-mobile is notoriously unreliable, despite its name. I was trying to drive out of downtown Houston, on my way to school from work, and the stupid thing started to smoke. Of course, since it wasn’t mine it irritated me more than if it were. I pulled in to a service station and parked it in front of the water and air pumps. My sister had warned me that it was acting up, so I was pretty much aware that this might happen. So I parked the stupid thing and popped the hood and got out. From the corner of my eye I saw a man approach me. He was an older African-American man who had the obvious signs of neglect of someone who either lives on the street or who spends a lot of time there. I was too preoccupied to be worried. My mother told me, later, that I could have been mugged. I didn’t even think about that. The man asked me what the problem was and I told him that it had heated up on me. He asked if I would mind him taking a look and I smiled politely and said that I was really sure that it just needed water. HE insisted, polite and non-threatening. He took a look and pointed out that a hose looked like it was leaking. Then he helped me put water in the vehicle. He never asked me for anything, never indicated at any time that he expected to be rewarded for helping me out. I did give him five dollars, but I never felt like I had to. It was voluntary.

There are lots and lots of other times some unknown person has come to my aid, but there are too many to count. I believe that what goes around comes around. So I’m usually nice to strangers. It’s my family I’m mean to.

maná rules

Went to the Maná concert last night at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in the Woodlands.


I seem incapable of saying anything else right now. Maybe later, after I’ve come down from my little cloud of musical contentment (is that a word) I’ll be able to say something critical or semi-coherent about the concert.

Right now I just want to ramble on and on about the Mexican rock group that pretty much pushed the rock en Español movement to where it is today. A group that not only gave a great 2 1/2 hour concert to thousands of screaming devoted fans, but also took the time to advocate the support of greenpeace, encouraged the fans to use condoms always and talked about how great the audience was.

For those of you who don’t know this, the Pavilion is an hour drive from my house. It’s north of Houston, and looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s an outside theater, which means that I was hot all evening. It’s a very nice theater, very aesthetic and a lot of fun. I’d definitely recommend it to someone else.

So I’m on the way back and my car overheated. That’s something it’s never done before. I mean it literally started to smoke so I immediately turned it off and turned on my blinkers. And, of course, I didn’t have any water on me. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I carry everything else, even jumper cables, but for some reason I never carry water. And my cellphone was dead.

A truck full of people pulled over and the driver asked if we needed help (my younger brother was with me; my sister, her husband, my little sister and her date were all in a car that had left us behind). Good Samaritans. They gave me the little water they had and let me use their cellphone to call my sister so that they could come back for us. All in all, everything turned out all right. Even though I had a one-hour drive back to my house.

In spite of the obvious car-related setback and the heat (I’m an indoor person) I’d do it again. Even knowing in advance that I wouldn’t get home until after 2 in the morning. Even knowing that I’d have to worry about my car and rely on the kindness of strangers. It was, after all, Maná.


My car’s been making a funny noise. A kind of squeaky noise I notice when I accelerate. It’s the noise it starts to make whenever it’s been a while since I’ve put fluids in it and made sure that everything’s okay. It’s just my car telling me that I’ve been lazy and I need to get over it.

So it’s Sunday. And I’ve done nothing all weekend but watch television and avoid sunlight. And eat. I definitely remember eating.

I didn’t bring any work home this weekend. And that’s weird. It’s not like I don’t have anything to do. It’s not like I haven’t brought work with me before. It’s just that I’ve had to work last weekend and the weekend before that and I refused to do anything but be a bum this time around.

And it’s Sunday and I’ve accomplished nothing. Let me tell you that accomplishing nothing is an acquired art. It’s not easy to make yourself forget that you have dry cleaning to drop off and groceries to buy and that you’re out of nylons and that you really really want some chocolate and you don’t have any in the house.

I had plans for dinner, however. So that meant that I had to go out. And that meant that I had to take a look under my hood to see what was making my car squeak. And that meant that I had to be a responsible adult and go out of the house with enough time that I could check all the fluids and other stuff, give the car whatever it needed and still get to dinner on time.

My father was in the living room, watching television. He asked me where I was going and what I was doing. He told me that it was about time I checked my car. Typical. Instead of offering to help me he tells me that I didn’t do it soon enough. With that in mind, I went out and did the amateur mechanic thing.

I own a Mercury Sable. It’s about 10 years old. In case you don’t know anything about the Sables, they have a definite flaw. After a while the hood stops staying up and you have to prop it up with something. I use my window wiper. It’s the right size, convenient and easy to use.

So I did the little thing I always do. And I added some water and found out that the car was a quart low on oil and okay with break fluid and power steering fluid. I looked at my battery (I had a bad experience with my battery burning up once . . . I’d rather not go into that) and it still looks pretty new. All in all, I think I did a good job.

So I closed up my car and put everything away. I rolled up the water hose and put it where my mother keeps it. I went into my house and washed the grease off my hands.

And ran into my father.

“Qué le faltaba al carro, m’ija?” he asked me. //What was the car missing?//

“Some oil. I’ll buy some later,” I answered, only half listening to the conversation.

“Checaste el agua?” //Did you check the water?//


“Checaste el power steering?” //Did you check the power steering?//


“Checaste la transmisión?” //Did you check the transmission?//

Loud sigh. “No.”

“Debería de checarlo, m’ija. No se le vaya a pasar,” he told me, triumphant at finding that I’d missed something. //You should check it. Don’t let it slide.// (NOTE: the translations are very loose.)

Mencioné que mi padre me habla de usted? That should just about say everything about our relationship. (Sorry folks, you either understood that or you didn’t.)

“M’ija,” he said again, as if I hadn’t heard him the first time. “No lo va a checar?” //Aren’t you going to check it?//

Where was he five minutes earlier, as I got my hands dirty?

Where was he when I was actually in the car?

Where was he when his question wouldn’t have bothered me?

Of course, going out to make sure that I had covered everything while I was doing isn’t nearly as much fun as pointing out what I did wrong afterwards. He likes to criticize. It’s just the way he is.

The car didn’t need any transmission fluid. And it’s stopped making that squeaky noise. And I did actually make it to my dinner on time.

Another Sunday in my life.


BIRTH ANNOUNCEMENT: Congratulations to Diana, Arianna’s best friend, on the birth of her first baby. Baby Andrea was born on Wednesday, September 16. Que tengas buena suerte y felicidad en tu vida, pequeña.

In a time when everyone pretty much knows where babies come from and how babies are made, when birth control is semi-effective in preventing conception (and f*ck what the church says about it being a sin, does anyone remember that they think that actually having sex is wrong to begin with too?), when abortion is still legal (albeit controversial), and when having a baby on your own no longer considered the end of the world — becoming a mother is now a choice rather than fate.

At least that’s what I think.

Admittedly, I have some very strong views on motherhood. Something along the lines of the fact that once you have a child said child comes first always. You have basically decided to dedicate your life to the care and welfare of this other human being and that’s your job for a very long time. And that means that the baby comes before your love life, before your ambitions and before every single thing you want or thought you wanted.

Harsh, true. But then, I don’t really think I’ll ever be a mother.

Okay. Now that I’ve put that out there, let me say that one of little sister’s best friends just had her first baby. And seeing her as a mother is traumatic enough. Diana is practically an honorary sister. She went to high school with little sister. I took them to San Antonio for the weekend of their graduation and got them both drunk the day before we had to come home. They worked together at a movie theater and quit on the same day. They moved in together a couple of years ago and stayed roommates until Diana moved in with her now husband and little sister moved back in with our parents. They are close friends, honest and accepting of each other as only true friends and can be.

She’s not ready. She can’t be a Mom. She’s not ready.

I don’t like her husband.

I’d like to be able to apologize for that. I really would. The problem is that he’s a jerk and I can’t find one single redeemable quality in him. The problem is that he’s a selfish jerk, an immature selfish jerk. And I’m really trying to hold back the icky, stinging, honest, four-letter words I’d like to use.

He left her one week after she found out that she was pregnant because he “wasn’t ready to be a father.” And, yes, they were already married. When he came back she welcomed him into her life without hesitation or demands (I’ll talk about women and their stupid choices when it comes to men on another day). When she started to gain weight, when she started to show, he would frequently tell her that she was gaining too much weight. He would tell her that she was eating too much, that she was going to have to work at losing all that weight after the baby was born. And he was adamant about that. He told her over and over and over and over that she had better lose all that weight afterward. He doesn’t want a fat wife.

She weighed 98 pounds before the baby.

Now they are the proud parents of a little girl. He was, of course, disappointed that they weren’t having a boy when they first found out. He’s accepted it by now, but you should have seen his face that first week. I know that that little girl is going to wrap her father around her little finger. I can see it in the way he treats her. I only hope that she has her mother’s love of life, so she can give him a few gray hairs. (Pitiful, aren’t I?)

I took off work early yesterday to visit Diana and Andrea in the hospital. I didn’t go on the first day because I don’t think that a person who has given birth in the last 24 hours wants 20 or 30 people to populate her hospital room and gawk at her as if she were the eighth wonder of the world. From what she told me yesterday, that’s exactly what happened. The only reason I went to the hospital at all is that I called her and she seemed hurt that I hadn’t paid her a visit already. So I used some of that comp time I have coming from all those evenings and weekends I’ve put in and I drove into downtown to see her. And I didn’t take flowers or balloons or stuffed animals. I figured she already had too much of that. And I was right. Her room looked like a florist’s overstock display and she had the customary balloons and assorted bright things. I added my pastel-colored card to her collection (the card was for her memory book; and, for the record, I’ve already given her a gift, at the baby shower). I also smuggled in two pints of ice cream and some soda. She was very grateful.

I watched her awkwardly handle her new daughter. She looked wrong with the baby. But that’s probably the big sister in me talking. We talked about how long she was taking off from work. We talked about who had gone to see her and what they had brought her. We talked about the fact that her mother-in-law is going back to México this weekend. And we both thanked God for that. (Her husband has to get that winning personality from somewhere, doesn’t he?)

She was having trouble breast-feeding. And may I just say, breast feeding . . . eeewwww! I have always been uncomfortable around breast-feeding. Even when it was my sister feeding my niece. I think it goes back to when I used to live in México and took public transport to school everyday. Once or twice a week a woman would get on with a baby and end up feeding him/her on the bus. I mean, she would just plop her breast out and not even cover up. I always thought it was kind of . . . well, gross.

So here I am, minding my own business, just visiting my friend, and a few minutes later I’m trying not to stare at her efforts to feed her little girl. She hadn’t bought one of those bras yet, so she had to take off her hospital gown. And that left her exposed. Very bare and very exposed. And I know that the kid has to eat, and I know that I could have left or something, but I’m always amazed at how much pain women will endure to feed babies. I mean, in case you didn’t know, breast-feeding hurts.

So it’s Andrea’s second day and her Mommy was trying to feed her. With the patient help of the nurse. And I made a comment that if she was having so much trouble, then maybe she was going to have to look into feeding her with a bottle or something. Diana’s mother gave me a horrified look and informed me that the proud papá didn’t want the baby to be bottle-fed. Not even water. To which I responded that maybe he should feed her.

Diana just laughed.

Throughout our conversation I got this clear picture of a woman who had no idea what she had gotten herself into. It is, of course, stupid of me to think that parents should always be prepared before the kid is born. I don’t know if I’m ever going to have kids. It’s not a question of wanting them, but of whether or not I’ll be able to do a good job. Coming from the weird kind of family I have, I don’t feel equipped to do the job justice. So I may not approach the job at all. I do know that that makes me a coward. I’m okay with it. Some women don’t aspire to motherhood. Some women aren’t supposed to be mothers. Just because you can have kids doesn’t mean that you have to.

Motherhood is a serious thing. Maybe I’ll find a significant other, though, before I give this any more thought.

Image source: PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay


When I was growing up, living in México, I was Americana. I was born in the States and didn’t quite act Mexican and had a bit of an accent, so I was Americana.

It was a label I didn’t like. Contrary to the homegrown belief that Americans are all that, in México American girls are considered brainless and easy. Not the best thing to have precede you when you’re a teenager. Not the best stereotype to work against when you’re me. I approached it with my customary arrogant disregard for small-town politics and proved the theory right.

But that’s not today’s topic.

When I moved to Atlanta to live with my Dad, 17 years old, I became Mexican. In a city where my dark skin earned me the occasional hushed “are you Black?” and my Spanish warranted curious glances and worried looks, I guess Mexican was the best they could do.

I accepted the label, but I rejected the baggage that came with it. I was a living, breathing reminder that brown-skinned people are smart and interesting and hard working and badass (when we want to be). I accepted the label but hated the mocking, amused tone with which it was said. “She’s Mexican.” As if that one sentence defined everything that is me. As if that one word could describe who I am and what I am and what I believe.

So much idiocy, so little patience.

The culture shock I experienced when I moved to Houston defies description. After living in a place that was primarily brown then in a place that was primarily white, living in this café con leche, multicultural, multiracial, multilingual city was one hell of a shock. And I thought that I had finally found the one place where I belonged.

I was wrong and I was right.

Chicana. Latina. Hispana. Hispanic. Mexicana. Mexican. Mexican-American. Mexican American. American.

The words twirled around me in so many voices and with so many meanings it made me dizzy. “What are you?” they would demand. “What are you?” they would ask, speculation and interest in their eyes. Labels are important. Choose a label. Choose a label. Choose a label.

And it didn’t even matter if I said that I was Hispanic, Mexican-American or Chicana, there was always another test to fail, another proof of brownness that I wasn’t living up to. I was either talking white or acting white. Or the fact that I listened to top 40s pop music instead of Tejano meant that I wasn’t really brown enough. Or the fact that I’d had what could be considered a middle-class upbringing meant that I wasn’t really in tune with the issues. Or the fact that I don’t speak Spanglish meant that I was denying who I am. Or the fact that I am a Feminist was diluting the brown power movement by distracting from the real issues.

Blah, blah, blah. Words, words, words. Been there. Done that. Got over it. Get on with it.

Hispanic is the all-encompassing word that describes me, my family and my friends. It’s not the word that best describes us. It’s not the word I prefer. But I’ll accept it. And so, we are now in Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a weird month, starting at 16 de Septiembre and ending just after Día de la Raza (Columbus Day). It’s a month when my brown skin is celebrated and tolerated. Good thing too. I’m getting very tired of telling people off.