Tuesday, September 16, 2014

No Blog Post Could Do Him Justice

I just wish everyone could have had the privilege of knowing Alberto Cabrera. You seriously would have loved him. Everyone did.

The first time I met my (then) future father-in-law, I had only been home from my mission for two weeks. I went to Peru to "court" my future husband. As soon as I met Alberto, I could feel his amazing warmth and love. I knew I needed to be a part of his family when he sat with me about a week later and told me that he and his wife had been raising his son from very small to be a great husband. He told me he felt like I would be a good wife for that son. 

He taught both of his sons well. He never let a moment go by without teaching them something.

Alberto contracted polio when he was only a year old. He never walked. He spent nearly his entire life in a wheelchair. But he never let that limit him in any way. He wasn't resentful about it. He was one of the most cheerful people I've ever had the pleasure to meet. When Lucia was so close to walking while we were there he would always say, "She's going to beat me at walking!"

He never called me his daughter-in-law. He always called me his daughter. He told me he had always wanted a daughter and now he had one.

I knew I loved this man when he took my side on any argument Diego and I ever had.

At our wedding reception in Peru while Diego danced with his mom, I grabbed Alberto by the hands and we glided across the dance floor.

You could not have seen a happier grandpa when Lucia and I went to Peru in April. He put her on his lap and wheeled his chair up and down the street telling everyone, "This is my granddaughter!" "My granddaughter is here visiting me!" 

He asked me to pick out some movies for Lucia that he could buy. He bought her Frozen. We sat down to watch it, Lucia, Alberto, Sonia, and I. But Sonia and Lucia both fell asleep about half way through the first song and Alberto and I stayed up watching it together.

When Elsa is little and her father is trying to hide her powers, Alberto said, "That is just like people who are really smart! So many times they hide it instead of letting their abilities grow."

He was always analyzing everything and finding deeper meaning. But he had such a light heart and happy spirit. He laughed heartily throughout the movie.

He loved music. He was always singing. Whenever we'd talk to him on Skype he would start a huayno beat to make Lucia laugh. Dung dugga dung dugga dung. I can hear his voice and see Lucia's smile.

One night while I was in Peru the last time I got really depressed. I felt so guilty that Diego's life had changed so dramatically. I felt awful that he was far away from his friends and family and that it was my fault. The next day when I talked to Alberto about it he kindly said, "Diego knew what he was doing when he married you. When he chose to love you, he knew he would be giving up a lot." He knew exactly what to say to sooth my sorrowing heart.

He was friends with everyone he met. He told me that he loved the song "Un Millon de Amigos" (A Million Friends) by Roberto Carlos because that was his goal in life, too. He was a friend to everyone he met, and even those he hadn't met. Every time we spoke on Skype he would ask me how my mom and dad were doing. He always wanted to know what was going on in their lives and how they were.

He will be sorely missed, but the greatest consolation is knowing that he is home with his Father in Heaven. He was one of the most faithful men I have ever met. His testimony of His Savior Jesus Christ was incredible. He served faithfully to the end.

Life will not be the same without him. But he was an amazing comforter. I know if he were here he'd be saying, "Hannah, don't cry. Don't cry hija, everything will be okay." And I know it will be. I know that families can be eternal and that we will be with Alberto again sooner than we know it.

Te amo mi querido suegro. Gracias por tratarme siempre como tu hija. Gracias por enseñarme, por amarme y por siempre aceptarme tal y como soy.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Surviving the Distance

This Tuesday, September 16, marks exactly 6 months since Diego and I have been apart. Diego said something the other day about how fast the time has gone.

Well, I'm glad it went by fast for him because it has been the longest six months of my life. 

It's not like Diego and I are strangers to long periods of distance. You could say that that is a big part of our relationship. 

Our first shot at long distance was 8 months. I was still on my mission; Diego was at home. We didn't talk on the phone, we only wrote to each other once a week. We weren't officially in any kind of relationship, just good friends. Still, through our distance, we learned to care for each other. Time flew by then.

After two short weeks in Peru, we were apart again. This time for 9 months. A lot happened in that nine months. We broke up and got back together several times. Our relationship went through a refiner's fire. But in the end, we decided our love could be an eternal one, and got engaged. 9 months after my first trip to Peru, I returned, this time with a ring on my finger. We were together for a well deserved 2 months. It was heavenly. We went on actual dates, we talked late into the night, we were able to hold each other close.

Then separation. Again. This time it was only 3 months. Three stressful months--planning a wedding, trying to graduate from college, starting a new job, and begging immigration services to hurry up our paperwork so I could have a groom on my wedding day. Those months went by pretty fast.

May 25, 2012 finally came around. We were sealed for time and all eternity. Everything was just as it should be. 

Except not. Contrary to popular belief, Diego didn't just "become a citizen" when he married me. He didn't even become a resident for nearly a year after our wedding. Months passed. We were together, that was the good part. The bad part was that Diego wasn't allowed to work. Or go to school. Or to do anything really. 

A year passed. We had a beautiful baby girl. We were together every day. Sometimes I think we forgot about the distance. We started to take for granted the simple blessing of just physically being together.

Months and months passed. Things started to get more difficult. Diego started looking into joining the Army, something I would never have even imagined. I knew it would mean more separation. After counseling and praying together, we decided it was the right decision. I thought the separation wouldn't hurt so bad, since we had done it so many times before.

After 22 months of being together every day, we parted ways again. This time things were very different, though. I wasn't working or going to school. I had Lucia to keep me company, but sometimes that made me even more lonely. I've gained a whole new respect for single moms. Diego has thrived in the Army. He's become a fully qualifies Combat Medic. I am very proud of him.

I have tried to keep myself busy. It's hard being a stay at home mom, because technically you are always busy, but you sometimes feel like you get absolutely nothing done. It has made time seem sluggish. 

Time is a funny thing. Though it feels like an eternity since I've woken up with my husband by my side, it also seems like Lucia is growing up way too fast. She has completely transformed from a 10 month old baby to a bubbly busy toddler.

So 6 months later, and finally, this Thursday, we will all be together again. I don't know for how long this time. It could be a year. It could be more. Or less. Since Diego is active duty, I know we will be apart again.

Sometimes I cry about it. Sometimes I just accept it as part of our life together. I hope the separation will continue to help me appreciate the moments that we are together. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Black with White Stripes or White with Black Stripes?

Blogging about my depression has seemed to help in the past, so I thought I'd give it a go again.

About a week ago my depression started getting pretty bad again. Many things have probably contributed: being sick, being sick again on top of being sick, being stressed about moving, being stressed about everything, and just life's wear and tear in general.

Talking more openly about my specific battle with depression has made me more aware of it. It's almost like an outer body experience. I can hear myself saying negative and almost always irrational things, and at the same time there is a part of me, floating around somewhere going, "That's depression! Just tell it to piss off!" A lot of times that will work, but this week I've just let myself sink deeper and deeper into negativity.

Tonight while I talked to Diego I said something to the effect of, "I guess I've just been kidding myself for the last several months thinking I could be happy. This is who I really am."

Almost immediately I questioned what I had said (or actually, typed, since Diego and I were chatting online). It sounded very definite and final. Am I really just a severely depressed person who is occasionally happy? Or am I a generally happy person who struggles with depression?

I thought of one of my favorite kid movies, Madagascar, and Marty the Zebra's soul searching question, "I'm ten years old. My life is half over and I don't even know if I'm black with white stripes or white with black stripes!"

It's a little paradoxical, because when I am in that mode of depression where no rational person or thought can penetrate my bubble of negativity, I AM a depressed person that can sometimes fight off my depression, and fool everyone into thinking that I am happy. But when I am happy and that fog of depression is not clouding my intellect, I know that I struggle with depression, but it does not define me.

The truth is, depression will probably never completely leave me in this mortal life. I will always grapple with that question, "Am I black with white stripes or white with black stripes?" Maybe there is no answer. Maybe I am both.

Maybe the key is to stop trying to define myself in black and white and see myself rather in the array of colors that I am.

I am a music loving, Spanish speaking, cookie eating girl (woman, I guess I have to be a woman now that I'm technically in my "late" 20s). I am a wife to the most attractive Peruvian man on the planet. I am the mother of the most adorable little girl. I am opinionated and I can be loud. I am a clown--I love to make other people laugh. I'm an aspiring author who has no idea when my first book will be done. I arrange concerts and musical numbers and choreograph dances...in my head. Someday they will become a reality. I dream of starting my own school in Peru to teach English while using theater and music. I am a daughter of God, who loves me, and I love Him!

That's me. Those are my colors. Forget black and white.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Belonging to a Ward Family (Para Mi Barrio Latino)

It's late and I really should be sleeping, but like always, I won't be able to sleep until I get this post out of my head and onto my blog.

When Diego and I first got married, we dined at Chinese restaurant owned by a Peruvian family. I purposely took Diego there because I knew the owner was Peruvian and thought it might be nice for Diego to talk to someone from home. The owner of the restaurant was very friendly, and on finding out that we were LDS, he asked us if we went to a Spanish ward. He told us we were in his ward boundaries and that we should go on Sunday and see how we liked it.

The following Sunday, Diego and I went to the Spanish ward. When the ward clerk asked if we were visiting or staying, before Diego could say anything I said, "We're staying." And we've been going ever since.

The ward has become my family. I love each and every one of the members as if they were my crazy aunt or uncle so-and-so.

One family in particular, the Lizjuan family, has been extraordinarily kind to me. Brother Luis Lizjuan sat in my Sunday School classes when I taught the youth. He always had amazing comments about his mission. He always asked how I was doing, and told me what I good teacher I was.

When I was pregnant, the only thing I craved was brownies from Zupas. I posted an off-handed remark about it one day on Facebook and not ten minutes later Sister Esperanza Lizjuan was sending her daughter Deyra DOWNTOWN to the office where I worked with three different brownies from Zupas. Who does that? It made my entire week, nay, my entire pregnancy!

The week after I gave birth, Sister Lizjuan, along with many other wonderful Relief Society sisters were at my house with meals and hugs and "Ooooh que linda! Se parece igualita a su papá!!"

Last week, Brother Lizjuan had an accident at work. A bad accident. He has a collapsed lung and a swollen brain. He's in a induced coma while they monitor the swelling in his brain. They've already removed a piece of his skull to allow relief there.

On Friday, Lucia and I, along with another one of my favorite families, the Warburtons (Jon and Luz) went to visit Sister Lizjuan in the hospital. She hasn't left her husband's side. Jon and Luz watched Lucia in the waiting room so I could go and visit Brother Lizjuan in the intensive care unit.

While Sister Lizjuan, the nurse, and I talked about his condition all of the sudden I started feeling very lightheaded and ended up on the floor after nearly passing out. I went to the doctor that night and they found that I have an infection.

Yesterday, though, I was feeling better again, so I put off picking up the antibiotics the doctor had prescribed. I figured it couldn't hurt to wait until Monday to pick them up.

Today I church I nearly passed out again. And there was my ward, being amazing as usual. I felt embarrassed for calling so much attention to myself; I started to cry. A few of the brothers helped me to another room where they gave me a blessing. Sister Noemi Delgado took care of Lucia while they did and then she drove me home.

Tonight my bishop called just to make sure I was doing okay.

I know this is a long maybe not so connected entry, but I just wanted to say to any of the amazing ward members that read my blog: THANK YOU! I cannot express how painful it will be to leave you all next month. I'm already dreading it. I will miss my sweet Latino family that has accepted this Spanish speaking gringa as one of their own.

I'm grateful that the Church allows us to create these friendships with otherwise complete strangers.

If you haven't said your prayers tonight, and even if you have, please remember Brother Luis Lizjuan. He is an amazing father and husband and friend and neighbor.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mobilization and the Creation of Transnational Identity in Salvadoran Migrants

Originally written: February 21, 2008

Mobilization and the movement of people are an integral part of life in the twenty-first century. With the effects of globalization, especially the improvement of technology and transportation, movement is become more and more possible. However, there are several different implications of mobilization and migration. In the case of El Salvador, as well as many other Central American countries, migration to places like the United States, Canada, and other more stable countries has been prompted by warfare, violence, corruption, and economic devastation. Mobilization creates a phenomenon called transnationalism, where a person is caught between two different cultures and nations. Baker-Cristales defines transnationalism as "a way of construing the world that selectively incorporates practices and beliefs from both El Salvador and the United States in a fluid set of social practices." All Salvadoran migrants have felt the impact of having a transnational identity to different degrees.

The history of El Salvador plays an important part in understanding the complex characteristics of transnational identity. Like the majority of Latin American countries, El Salvador was colonized by the Spanish. The initial conflicts began as ethnic skirmishes between the indigenous people and the European settlers. This created a distinct ethnic division in the county. After a bloody massacre in 1932, the indigenous identity was greatly downplayed. El Salvador became a much more homogeneous population ethnically. From that point on, rather than focusing on ethnic division, economic class distinctions were made more obvious. Communism emerged as a popular school of though, with a concern for the rights of the proletariat. In this political and social climate, civil war emerged in the late 1970s and lasted through the early 1990s. The war stemmed from years of class conflict. Approximately 75,000 people died in the Salvadoran civil war. It completely devastated families, communities, and the economy. It also prompted a huge wave of migration, with many people trying to escape the violence of war.

Even after the peace treaty was signed in 1992, migration continued to be high. Many sought asylum in the United States. "Estimates of the number of Salvadorans in the United States today range from over 1 million to as many as 2 million out of a total population of 6.3 million" (Baker-Cristales). Because of the steady flow of migration, the economy of El Salvador is run almost entirely by remittances (money sent back to their home country) from relatives in the United Sates and other countries where a better living is offered. Most of the people who migrate from El Salvador are middle class, as the opportunities for travel and migration are much more limited to the poor.

The two biggest results of the civil war and increased migration are the creation of a transnational identity and a remittance economy. In order to better understand the transnational identity of Salvadoran migrants, many different interviews and surveys have been conducted within Salvadoran communities all over the United States. In the article, "The Interrupted Circle: Truncated Transnationalism and the Salvadoran Experience," the study focuses specifically on Salvadoran migrants in New Jersey, and their families they left behind in El Salvador. In the article, the authors discuss the many issues that migrants face in the transnational lifestyle. They also claim that the Salvadoran migrants are experiencing a "truncated transnationalism" because of the difficulty in gaining legal documentation in the United States. They say that the Salvadorans live an "interrupted circle," which is missing elements of the regular migration circle: separation, experience, and return. Because of the unstable economy back home, return is almost always impossible. This created many emotional issues with Salvadoran migrants. They long for home, but they are supporting their families by staying in the United States. Because of the difficult process of gaining citizenship in the United States, they must sometimes cut off all ties from their home country. However, often the only reason they are in the United States in the first place is to better their economic situation and then return to their home country. It is a paradoxical situation. Ines M. Miyares describes it like this, "They must create place ties in the US to convince state authorities that it is life-threatening to physically return to El Salvador in order to be granted the legal right to visit 'home.'"

Another result of the civil war and large influx of migration is the creation of a remittance economy. According to Baker-Cristales, "The Salvadoran economy and countless Salvadoran families have developed a dependence upon migrant remittances, the single largest source of income in the country." The economy of El Salvador has been described as stagnant. They are so dependent on foreign remittances and migrant help; they are unable to develop their own functioning economy. The only viable choice in order to help your family for many Salvadorans is to migrate and make a living abroad. Although conditions may seem worse when compared to middle class Americans, Salvadoran migrants are able to make a significantly higher salary in the United States working for very base pay than they could if they stayed in their home country.

El Salvador's bloody and violent history, hand in hang with political corruption and social class distinction, has created a transnational population abroad and a remittance economy at home. Because of this, Salvadoran face many different problems. They are torn between two countries. Many of the migrants are unable to return home and are permanently separated from their families and loved ones. There are children growing up in El Salvador who only know their parents through the remittances they send home and an occasional letter or phone call. The only way to fix the problem is to begin building  a new infrastructure in El Salvador and slowly wean it from its dependency on foreign remittances. If people continue to leave the country to live and work abroad, there will be no improvement in the problems at home.

Salvadoran Transformations: Class Consciousness and Ethnic Identity in a Transnational Milieu (Beth Baker-Cristales)

The Interrupted Circle: Truncated Transnationalism and the Salvadoran Experience (Ines M. Miyares)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

With Suicide There is No Room for Judgement, Only Compassion

Since the death of Robin Williams two days ago, the entire nation, if not much of the world has had suicide and depression weighing heavily on their mind. Such a prominent, public figure who contributed so much good to the world, has certainly left his loved ones and his fans completely shell-shocked.

I have also been thinking a lot about these topics. I've been reading all the articles and blogs. Everyone seems to have their opinion about it. Everyone seems effected by depression and suicide in some way. I decided I wouldn't write about it, thinking everything important on the subject has already been written. But it's almost 3am and I'm lying in bed and I don't think I'll be able to sleep until I get this written down.

I'm sure nearly everyone has been effected by suicide in some way. For me it really started when my little sister's friend took her life at the young age of 13. I was 17, a high school senior. My sister took it hard, and started her on a long hard path down her own depression, culminating in her own suicide attempt a couple of years later.

I was 19 then. We shared a room downstairs in our parents' basement. I'd had a hard night, fighting with my boyfriend and feeling emotionally exhausted. When I got home, my sister was already asleep in her bed. She'd already taken the entire bottle of pills that she hoped would permanently take her pain away. I didn't even notice. I threw myself in the bed right next to hers and fell asleep.

The next morning I found that my sister was in intensive care in the hospital. To her dismay, she'd woken up early. She went to get my mom to tell her what she'd done. She recovered...physically. Depression is still something she deals with everyday.

At first, I was angry with her. I didn't even want to go visit her in the hospital. I couldn't believe she would try to leave without even saying goodbye. She hadn't even left a note.

Years later, I hit my own rock bottom with depression. I'd struggled with it nearly all my life and I decided I couldn't keep going. I thought about ending my life almost constantly. I'd be driving and have urges to just ram my car into a barrier or run it off the road. I remember walking across a bridge at school and thinking how easy it would be just to toss myself over the side.

I decided then that I needed more help than I was getting. I started seeing a psychologist and started taking medicine for depression. Things got better, but there were always ups and downs.

After I was married, we got pregnant right away. That may have saved my life a time or two. There would be times I'd be so down, but I'd always think, "I won't do anything to hurt this baby." I knew that if I hurt myself, I could potentially hurt her, and it wasn't her fault that I was a stupid awful person. There were nights, though, when I'd think to myself that as soon as she was born I would kill myself.

Once she was born, I discovered that she needed me, a lot. Every day since then, my reason to live has grown and grown. It has become much stronger than my reason to die.

Now, having described my experience with suicide, I want to say that every person has their unique experience. The circumstances surrounding those experiences are distinct and different for each person.

From a religious point of view, I know that only God has a right to pronounce judgement on His children. When a suicide is committed it is not a "Come grab your stone and cast it" kind of event. Even the person most intimate with the deceased could not know all the reasons and feelings behind that decision. There is no room for judgement. There is no room for speculation.

It is not condoning suicide to try to comfort those who remain to mourn. Those who are left to pick up the broken pieces of their lives deserve more than just, "Well, isn't that sad." They deserve compassion, and a listening ear. They need love. They will spend the rest of their lives trying to make sense of what happened. They don't need everyone around them telling them why their loved one did what they did and what the consequences for them are.

God loves His children. He knows each of us better than we know ourselves. He has the final word, and no one else. No person on this earth right now has the right to say where a deceased person is going to end up after this life, no matter how they parted. Leave the judgements aside, and help heal rather than hurt more. Celebrate life, cherish it.

For more information about suicide and the gospel, visit: Suicide: Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Close the Computer

I've learned a lot of things from my 14 month old daughter in her short lifetime. Above all she has taught me to live in the moment, using very forceful expression.

I do not own a smart phone, so most of my internet browsing happens on my small Chromebook that I can carry from room to room easily. During the day I'll open my tabs: first Facebook, then my email, and then sequentially all other websites that I deem necessary to do my internet "chores" for that day. Sometimes they are bank accounts or places I need to pay bills to. Some I leave open as a reminder of things I need to call on or look into further. A lot of times I'll open Spotify or Pandora so my daughter and I aren't in complete silence during the day.

Slowly my tabs begin to multiply. As I casually peruse Facebook, I'm led to news articles and trivia and quizzes about what type of carbonated beverage I am.

Don't get me wrong; I adore my daughter and we play and eat and do all the things most moms and their babies do. But my computer seems to always be around just in case I have a new notification or message.

Lately, Lucia has been catching on to that fact that my mommy brain is constantly multitasking. So in order to have all of my attention, she has got into the habit of closing my computer. I'll be sitting on the bed while she plays on the floor. She'll climb up and close the computer. We'll be watching a show and I'll also be periodically checking things online. She'll close the computer. Sometimes she even reinforces her action by sweetly saying "Bye bye" as she closes it.

Okay, Lucia. I get your point.

When I am with her, I should be with her one hundred percent. It isn't bad to be on the internet now and again throughout the day, and sometimes I really do have "errands" that I can do faster online. But the moment has come to stop wasting my time reading about what pop stars from the 90s are doing nowadays, or every mommy blogger's opinion about what laundry detergent is safest.

Regarding the internet, Randall L. Ridd said, "With it you can accomplish great things in a short period of time, or you can get caught up in endless loops of triviality that waste your time and degrade your potential. With the click of a button, you can access whatever your heart desires. That’s the key—what does your heart desire? What do you gravitate toward? Where will your desires lead?"

My desire is to be close to my daughter. To be the best mom, best wife, and best person I can be. So from now on instead of being tempted to look at just one more interesting video from my Facebook newsfeed, I will close the computer. There is always an hour or so at the end of the night when my little one is sweetly sleeping that I can spend a little more time writing silly blogs like this one.