Names are important. My own name is usually a conversation starter or a major conversation stopper - almost always deriving totally out of startled curiosity.
I was named for my mother's dreaded aunt, Mautrecia, better known to fearful nieces and grandnieces as "Auntie."
Auntie was a deceptive sobriquet, suggesting warmth and pleasantness and lovely tea parties under the trees in summer. Actually, the old girl was a tough "ol' bird" - one who quieted the young with a single look or a barked command. She was married three times and was on her way to a fourth union when her grown sons warned the new suitor off the property, never to return - if he knew what was good for him. I remember the stories about her, but I barely remember her. She has been relegated in my memory to Auntie, the mysterious, and the greatest mystery of all is why my mother gave me her name in the first place. My mother probably had hopes of appeasing Auntie, but nothing in family history indicates that the ploy worked.
I was given Auntie's name, and she went to her grave not knowing if I lived up to it or not. My mother went to her grave not knowing if Auntie had ever been appeased or not. I will probably go to my grave not ever knowing what it means to be Auntie's namesake.
Names are significant. So, when I met Maria Guadalupe Pacheco Juarez, I was intrigued. I have known her for several years simply as "Lupe." I didn't know however, that her patron saint is the revered Our Lady of Guadalupe, the legend connected with Our Lady of Guadalupe or that in some cultures a child is given several names - one of which is taken from a particular saint, who then becomes the child's patron saint. I am impressed since I am certain my "ol' Auntie" was no saint. The legend of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico, is a legend of hope and miracle, promising new life in a new era. It is no wonder, then, that Lupe's mother, Angela - if not a saint, still an angel - named her first born, a daughter, Maria Guadalupe.
It is no wonder that Maria Guadalupe was the first of Angela's children to make the trek into the country north of the border looking for a better life. It is no wonder that Maria Guadalupe, better known simply as Lupe, is recognized in both countries as "Lupe with the smiling face."
"I like friendly," Lupe tells me. "If you see me when I go to visit my friends in Mexico, I am so elated and happy. I take them candy and gifts. My clothes I leave there. If they say, 'Oh, I like that dress,' I say, 'Go ahead. Take it.'"
I first met Lupe when she was one of the many women who volunteered to work in the kitchen at Camp Victory every year. Then I began to see her always-smiling face around town at different places where she worked - smiling, always smiling and laughing. Then I met her mother, Angela. That year, the two of them prepared a complete dinner for children and adults at Camp Victory. In all, they cooked for 50 or 60 people. This year, Lupe and her sister, Maria Lourdes - better known as "Lulu" - prepared their specialty meal for over 80 women and children - smiling, always smiling and laughing. The smile rarely leaves Lupe's face, except when I ask why she is limping. For a moment her face is serious, as she explains how she has stepped on a nail and that it hurts to walk around in her tennis shoe. She is there the next day wearing a sandal that doesn't pinch the sore foot, and she is smiling, always smiling and laughing. I am intrigued to know more about these amazing women who demonstrate such courage in the face of adversity - and I don't mean just an occasional nail in the foot.
Lupe and her sister Lulu agreed to talk with me one afternoon. We meet at Lulu's house, which is a beehive of activity with tiny baby Jorge and his twin sisters, Rosie and Dolly, and a cousin Cindy. The children are happy, active, and polite. Lulu has only to change her tone of voice from "we-have-a-visitor" polite to "mama-means-business" serious to keep the girls in tow. The baby is crawling around his mother, peering out at me, smiling shyly. The girls are interested in the tape recorder, and I explain how it works. Then they go back to their play. We talk about the other women whose stories I've written. All of those women, I point out, have been strong women doing unusual work. I tell them I think they are strong women doing unusual work, too.
It may seem they are just doing traditional things - raising families, working jobs - but they are doing these things while working for their GED, preparing for the citizenship test, and surviving as "strangers in a strange land" - and smiling, always smiling and laughing. I want to tell their story. First, we clear up some of the basics, such as how long they have been here. Lupe fourteen years. Lulu nine. Casually, I ask if they spoke English when they first came here, and my question is answered with great hoots of laughter. "Noooooooooo," they say in unison, laughing out loud to remember how funny it seems now to have come to a strange country without being able to speak the language.
"Nothing," they both say over and over again. "Nothing, nothing. Only, 'what is you name?' or 'chicken' or 'I did' or 'I can,'" Lupe explains. "Like my trying to speak Spanish?" I ask, reminding Lupe that I have said I want to learn Spanish.
She has been trying to teach me a few Spanish words every time we get together, so she knows my language limitations. She tries to look serious as she acknowledges my question, but she is on the verge of laughing at my efforts to master my own second language. We come back around to how to survive as a stranger in a strange land. What does a woman do if she doesn't speak the language and needs to?
"Take a class," Lupe answers simply, and then she delineates her own path of progress. "Working at the camp (Ocean Park Retreat Center) helped. Head Start program helped a lot. Two times a week, two hours a day, I take English class. New friends I have met help me to study for my English class and to practice to take my test for citizenship."
I tell them I could probably take the citizenship test right now and not do as well as they did, and I have lived here all my life. We laugh and they offer to give me the test the next time we visit. I do a little research and decide that maybe it's not so funny. I am curious about the citizenship test, and call the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and they send me a copy of the test questions and answers. I talk with a teacher who preps immigrants for the test. I want to know if I could pass that test right now without studying the questions. I could, I am told, if I got the right questions in my native language and had the right interviewer.
Taking the citizenship test, it seems, is something like playing the lottery. Applicants are told to memorize one hundred questions and answers. The applicant does not know how many questions he or she will be asked. It can be anywhere from one to twenty, depending on the interviewer. It is an oral exam. Reading and writing English is tested separately. There are several questions, the teacher tells me, which just might trip up a native born citizen. She is right. I cannot name all the members of the president's cabinet nor the department under each. I do not know the number of the immigration and naturalization form used to apply to become a citizen (N400). I do not know how many changes and/or amendments have occurred in the constitution (twenty-seven, but that can change). I should remember - since I was an adult when Kennedy and Regan were shot and Nixon resigned - who becomes president if both the president and vice-president die (Speaker of the House).
The most interesting answer to a question that seems to be open to opinion was this: What is the most important right granted to a U.S. citizen? The answer? the right to vote. Try the easy ones. Name the original 13 states. Name the person who said, "Give me liberty or give me death." Name the person who wrote the Star Spangled Banner. List the three requirements to become president. Do we need a citizen's refresher course?
Lulu's children are playing in a corner of the living room, which, Lulu tells me, is off limits when they are eating anything. The living room is kept nice for visitors and family gatherings. The twins romp with little brother Jorge, who delights in his older sisters. Occasionally, he looks over his shoulder to be sure his mother is still there and to check out the stranger in the house. Then he goes on with his play. These are happy children. Lupe begins to talk about how it was when she first came to this country.
"My first job was picking oysters. Yes, in the cannery, sorting. I worked there maybe for four months because it is a very hard job for a woman, especially when they put us on in the night - when it's raining - in the middle of the night we go picking. O, my God," she says, as she rolls her eyes and puts her hand to her forehead in mock disbelief. "My little son was only a month and a half old then, and it was hard to leave him home while I do work. My second job was in the cranberry fields, and I was there for five years. Then Laurel (Ankeny) comes to me and says, 'Lupe, do you want to work at the camp?' and I say sure. I work there for a year part time on the weekends cleaning the cabins before the groups come. Then I move into working full time. It is very nice for me because I am learning how to cook and how to do everything in the camp. I love to cook. It is one of my favorite things. I'm keeping the job at the camp. I'm working part time in the school helping with the kids. I'm so glad I have that job. Maybe very soon that will be a full time job. I would be very happy. I like to work with the kids, to help the kids.
She laughs when I say I think she would be a good teacher. "I have to go to school and take more classes. English and computing. I don't know enough about computers. I've never run a computer before, and I need it. Especially for helping children do homework." That was last year. This year Lupe is working a full forty hours a week with preschool children and forty hours a week at Ocean Park Retreat Center.
She worries about having time to be with her two sons and how to be believable when she has to tell them no, no, or yes. It is the perennial problem of working mothers. How does a mother work two jobs to provide for the children - and nurture the children in the same twenty-four hours? There is no easy answer, but having family around helps. Lupe's mother is here, as well as Lupe's sister Lulu and her husband and their four children. What do the sisters think was the hardest thing about coming to the States? Both furrow their brows and think. It is not an easy question, and they take their time before they speak. Then, as the spokesperson, Lupe speaks in a very serious tone of voice.
"No friends," she says simply and somberly. "No friends. And because we do not speak English, how to talk to people was hard. It happens now to my mom. She doesn't like to go to American parties because she can't talk to the people. Sometimes she is crying about it."
I think about Japan and my own helpless feeling of repeating the one thing I knew until it became silly. What about the best part of being here? Lupe does not hesitate this time.
"For the simple life," she begins. "The cares are more easy than in Mexico. I don't care how hard you have to work, but if you do work hard, you can have a car, a house, and nice clothes. In Mexico you work very hard, hard, hard, and you have an old car. The rent is expensive. It is too expensive to buy a house. In the United States it is easier to live." Lulu chimes in. "On the Peninsula," she begins, "there are more opportunities for the kids - especially for the kids - schools and all. The kids learn to speak English.
A friend in Hillsboro has three kids. They speak very little English, and they've lived there five years. I don't know why. They say to me, 'Oh, your kids can speak English very well. Our kids do not speak much English.' I don't understand why it is a problem in Hillsboro and not here. I don't understand why, but this place is better." All the while we're talking, Lupe and Lulu are speaking both English and Spanish back and forth to the children. It is a special gift for any child to speak more than one language, and I envy both the children and the mothers. I tell Lupe - again - that I am going to learn Spanish. Again, she doesn't laugh, but smiles politely because she knows I haven't gotten much beyond muy bien and holla. Both Lupe and Lulu - like just about everyone else in the United States - laughingly talk about winning the lottery.
And what would they do if they did? "Help my friends, in Mexico especially, without houses and schools," Lupe says. Lulu agrees, and adds buying books and maps to take to school to tell about Mexico. Lupe has to leave for work, and Lulu and I "talk" as best we can with her promising English and my promise of Spanish. Like Lupe, Lulu is patient with me. Baby Jorge cries. He is hungry, Lulu nurses him, and he is content again. Lulu comforts him with cooing words. The words are in Spanish. The cooing translates in any language. So the children are really learning three languages. I can barely resist humming a lullaby.
Lulu talks about having children and teaching them to become responsible adults. Her theory of parenting is not complicated. She talks to them. She gives them examples of how to be in the world. She gives them rules. She teaches them how to treat other people.
"You don't talk about other people. No, no, no. None of your business. Respect everyone. Every person deserves respect. When people come to my house, I want them to relax. I want my friends and my children's friends to come and be happy playing here."
Lulu sets clear boundaries for her children. As a result, they are developing a strong sense of trust. They don't have to question what they can and can't do. She has set the boundaries. Kids who don't have boundaries set for them will go around pushing everything trying to find those limits that will protect them from others and others from them. If no one tells children where the boundaries are, children get lost.
"Pay attention to the kids," she says. "Try to say one good thing when they come in the house."
In other words, pay attention to the children, and those children will grow up to pay attention to their children. That about covers it. While Lulu is raising her children, she is working on her GED and studying for the citizenship test. People come to her house to study once a week. She goes to class. Some day she would like to teach, pre-school maybe. She practices her English, and she has advice for others new to this country.
"Come to the schools and the day cares. People need to go to schools and see their children there. Try new things for learning English. Read the newspapers. Practice your English. If you don't speak English very well, get help. Spanish-speaking people helping Spanish-speaking people is the secret. Whatever church you like, go there. Go to the churches. Jesus is everywhere. We do not need to stay separate."
This is not just talk. Lulu has many projects to get others into schools, classes, and churches, encouraging them not to hide, to become part of the community. She encourages them to answer ads on TV, to call on the telephone to inquire about classes. Her listing of projects is interrupted by the ring of a toy telephone. Talk of telephones has prompted Jorge to begin playing with the phone that says things in English. He looks up at us and smiles. Lulu has at least one convert to her cause.
Both Lupe and Lulu credit their mother, Angela, with the skills and values they have today. They are simple teachings with powerful potential. It doesn't matter if your clothes are old, but they should be clean. What you're wearing doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Be nice to people. Respect others, especially at work. They have learned these things - plus how to cook - from their mother, and they will pass them on to their children. Potential: No more wars. I take care of my nineteen month-old granddaughter during the week while her parents teach. Frequently, we watch Sesame Street. It is like visiting old friends for me because I recognize the muppets as old friends of my son and daughter. They still look the same after twenty-five years.
One morning Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, makes a guest appearance on Sesame Street. My granddaughter is not impressed, but I am. The muppets have a problem. They want to sing the alphabet song, but they can't decide whose turn it is to sing. Enter the Secretary General, impeccably groomed in suit and tie.
"What is the problem?" he asks in his deep, rich voice from out of Africa. Elmo explains that they want to sing the alphabet song, but they can't agree about whose turn it is. "There is no problem," Kofi Annan says quietly. "We can all sing together?"
And they do. All of the muppets - and Kofi Annan. Red or yellow, black or white, pink or purple, grouchy or not, they sing in unison, "ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQR-STUVWXYZ. Now I've said my ABCs. Won't you come and sing with me?"
Then in pure Sesame Street style, they cheer loudly, clap their hands, and jumped up and down, happy as little Willapa Bay clams. Rosita says she is so-oo happy, she wants to give Kopi Annan a kiss. Then, of course, all the muppets want to kiss the Secretary General, who sagely observes again that there is no problem. They can just have a group hug. And so they do. Until that day, I have not even known what the Secretary General looks like. I have not knowingly seen him before. But shortly afterwards, I see him on television speaking to the United Nations about war and rumors of war.
"Look!" I shout. "It's Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations. I saw him on Sesame Street."
And I clap my hands with glee. We take our lessons where we find them. The third generation of the Angela Juarez family is not old enough yet to be philosophical about the world and growing up. They have known love and attention all their lives, as they should have. They are concerned with being children, as they should be. In a sense, they have already won the lottery. They have already hit the jackpot. They have abundance that money cannot buy: love and laugher, hearth and home, safety and simplicity, values and vigilance.
That's the lesson. We all can sing together. No problem. Group hug. We are family - in any language.