For this Hispanic Heritage Month, we invited Maribel Ramirez Bowles, Texas CASA’s Events and Meetings Director, to reflect on her family, heritage and the strengths she learned growing up. Texas CASA believes that supporting children and families includes understanding their unique cultural identities, practices and everyday activities. Thanks, Maribel, for sharing yours!
Every morning, I start my day with coffee with canela, or cinnamon, a common beverage among Mexican people.
I am a first generation Mexican American. My parents are from Mexico and I was born in Chicago but grew up in Eagle Pass, one of the border towns that extends across Southwest Texas. I grew up with Mexican culture all around me. Living on the border, most people look like me. We all speak Spanish and mix it up with English words here and there. After a life of this practice, we end up immersing ourselves in a sort of new, unique language: Spanglish.
I’m very proud of my Mexican culture. I wear it, I speak it, I eat it.
Coming from the border, this is our normal. I could be in the US one second and in Mexico the next. A bridge was all that stood between me and the other country. As a child, the two sides of the border were one, big country.
When I was doing my undergraduate degree at the University of Texas, I was lucky enough to find Eric, someone who understood the very unique experiences of border life. We were from the exact same border town. We got the same jokes, we spoke the same Spanglish. I realized how amazing interactions could be. Everything seemed easier when I shared it with someone who grew up like me. I didn’t have to explain my culture to him, but just embraced it even more. Of course, we are married now.
We have two kids born and raised in Austin. Gavin Diego and Ethany Lucía — and yes, even their names had to have a bit of our American and Mexican side. I don’t think we can get away from it, and we don’t want to.
We raised our kids the same way.
Our breakfast always includes some sort of taquito. Everything that we eat has lots of flavor in it, lots of chiles and spices. I can’t do bland, I’ve been eating chile since I was three years old! It’s part of my tastebuds now.
I grew up on sopita, a type of soup made with little pasta in many different shapes — letters, sea shells, you name it and the nectar of the gods of many Mexican families, Knorr Tomate, granulated bouillon made of tomatoes, chicken and spices. Now, sopita is my soon-to-be 15 year-old daughter’s favorite food.
Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money. Beans and rice were a staple and that was okay with me. I would love to eat them in a cup like a happy camper. Even now, everything that we eat has to have a side of beans and rice.
When I was a kid, I didn’t even realize we were poor because we were always surrounded by family, a tía and abuelita visiting, music playing in the background, and a cup of beans and rice.
I would love for everyone to embrace our joy as a Hispanic culture. Very quickly, I came to realize material stuff doesn’t matter as much when you have joy. You find joy in the things that you do have, in the gatherings of those you love the most.
For us, food is a reason to gather, a form of entertainment, and a time to have long talks around the kitchen table. It is an educational experience. You learn not only how to prepare a meal, but how to appreciate and move through life.
Many life lessons for me and my kids have come from a Sunday meal at my mom or mother-in-law’s house.
Family is my pillar. Both my husband’s and my family live in the Austin area. Everything revolves around family and we will be there for each other no matter what. Not a day goes by where I don’t text my brothers and sister. If I can’t pick up my kids from school, there’ll always be an abuelita or tío waiting for them outside. When I first had my son, he didn’t last in daycare more than eight months because the grandmas were not having it. Family had to take care of him. My mom moved from Eagle Pass to Austin for that very reason. She would come over to our house every morning at six o’ clock to take care of him — she and my mother-in-law did the same for our daughter. Our children were lucky enough to be cared for and raised at our home by their grandmothers the first five years of their lives.
At CASA, I think my Hispanic heritage has allowed me to relate to our Latino or Hispanic kids in care in a distinct way. I see the intricacies and values of our language and our culture. Despite the high number of Hispanic kids in care, our volunteer base doesn’t match that. Not having more volunteers that look like the kids that we serve is a disservice to them.
Hispanic culture is different from others in many ways. One of the things about us is that we tend to work in packs. Another is that we keep everything within the family. I’d love for CASA to take a look at our traits and figure out ways to incorporate our way of life to accommodate and attract more Latinos and Hispanics. Perhaps, if we could volunteer in larger groups, as families or implement smaller partnerships, it would be easier for us to step into the very needed volunteering world.
This Hispanic Heritage Month, I invite you not only to learn about where we come from and what we celebrate, but to also look at ways to better work with a population that only keeps growing.