Category Archives: Personal Journey

Reflections on family, friends and sources of inspiration.

The Role of Parents and Community in Education

In reading Charles Glenn’s book "Educational Freedom in ­Eastern Europe" (1995) I delve into the world of totalitarian states, regimes that looked to education to perpetuate a carefully tailored ideology that would ensure the perpetuation of the state.  Slowly as I read on, current day issues distract me and compel me search for implications this work has for understanding and rethinking problems in our education system. ­

Glenn himself draws parallels between the focus of his study and western educational systems:

 "While an authoritarian regime may be satisfied with obedience, a totalitarian regime seeks devotion that will be self-perpetuating….the nation-building elites who made popular education a priority in the United States and other industrializing nations throughout the 19th century had something similar in mind. Without intending to suggest a ‘moral equivalence’ between the educational goals of totalitarian regimes and those of liberal democracies, it is appropriate to recognize that few political leaders in times of rapid social change can resist the temptation to seek to promote their own agenda through schooling…" (p 11-12)

While Glenn sees a shared trend in governments wanting to use education to promote a common ideology, the problem I see is not with the goal -many examples attest to the lack of efficacy of large bureaucracies-, but the growing lack of balance of power, not by design but by happenstance. Many questioned whether the Communist regime would be successful in destroying civil society. When I paraphrase this question I see a bridge between bodies of work and analysis. I understand this question about civil society to be whether individual agency and the will and freedom to organize and collaborate could be eradicated, supplanted by a top down state control.

Continue reading The Role of Parents and Community in Education

The Making of a Puerto Rican O’Malley

In my break from writing about nationalism and the construction of national identities in the Spanish Basque Country, I often compare my research from a decade ago to my current experience with education. I have a third grader and a Kindergarten-attending young boy.  I often am amused by what I am not putting down on the paper that I wish I could. But all in due time, upon finishing writing about how society and identity are shaped through schooling in the Basque Country I look forward to taking that work and comparing it to a new setting: Puerto Rico. And while I wait for that day to come, I blog so I don’t forget.

Every November, my husband and I prepare for the onslaught of overt exercises in national definition.  I am convinced by what I have read, seen, lived and heard that a clearly defined sense of identity provides individuals and communities with a foundation on which to stand while dreaming or reaching for that next best thing in the course of change and progress.   I care however for how that identity is built.

“How can it be good and sound if it is built by assuming there are biological races?” I asked a fellow academic who advanced the current treatment of the subject.  “It is good because it promotes a positive attitude toward mixing, it recognizes all 3 roots,” she defended. ” Fine, mixing is good” I concede, this is not advocating open segregation.  “Still,” I insist that “by promoting racism -using flattery, hoping to disguise it in political correctness- we enable racist undertones because in the process we  draw attention to a chasm of difference as being a combination of biological and cultural  traits. By presenting the concept of race as biological and placing it beside cultural traits we allow these differences to be assumed as part of some biological predetermination.   Unless we clearly decouple the issues,- heck! following the American Anthropological Association lead not me – we endorse racism while trying to deny it exists in this “mixed race island paradise.”  Wanting to deny that Puerto Rico was promoting racism, she argued, “would you not say that the primary problem we face is classism and not racism?” “I can agree to that, but that Classism is intertwined with issues of race and history in a way that classism can overshadow race but race is still undeniable, it is still there regardless of the classism. ” Knowing neither would convince the other, I let the discussion merge into the next topic.

Thus without much hope of changing the system-at least overnight-, I came to meet my daughter one November afternoon. She was in the second grade, and it was November.

“Mami, I don’t understand why the teacher did not pick me for the plena. She was asking for volunteers. I raised my hand and I was the only one raising it. She still needed one more girl and I was the only one.  I wanted her to know that I wanted to participate so I blurted it out.  I yelled across the room that I wanted to dance. But instead of picking me, she insisted on having this other girl dance. This other girl did not want to do it. The teacher begged her til she agreed. Mami,” she said sobbing “why did she not pick me?”

I quickly prayed to the Lord for mercy and inspiration “oh where and why and how will I enlighten and aid my daughter.”  My daughter’s disillusionment tempted my inner mother bear as instinctively I wanted to go swat down the assailing teacher that endangered my daughters happiness. But, I resisted that temptation and offering no repose for her discomfort I went on to explain that it was the nature of auditions.  “Gone are the days like in kindergarten and first grade when you are assured a place just because you want to  or because we all have to have a part.  Casting a show or a performance requires choice. The teacher had a clear picture in her head of what she wants to portray on stage and you my dear are not what she wants.  She envisions typical looking Puerto Ricans, those with dark hair, dark eyes, slightly tanned skin.  Maybe someday she will want to enact Sleeping Beauty or Beauty and the Beast and she will look in the books and then look among her students for somebody with honey hair, pale skin and that will be you. Maybe on that day a young girl that is overweight and has short curly hair will want the same part and will be turned down. “

“But Mami, that is not the way it is anymore. We saw Cinderella the other night and Cinderella was black. Anyone can be Cinderella…” my daughter replied. Knowing she was echoing other discussions we had on the topic of universal truths and universal stories.  I had recently explained that by virtue of changing the time or the place or the characters stories like Cinderella became universal and the messages in them was set free to be analyzed.

“Yes Olaia, that is true, and I trust that if you ever became a director you would embrace the challenges, challenge the story and open the stage into an exciting new place.  But in this, case, this Director is reproducing what she thinks and sees in books. To be traditional is her goal and we have to respect it. Though I for one think it is boring, wrong and pigheaded.” I concluded, succeeding in making Olaia chuckle.

“I still feel bad,” Olaia added. “Olaia, it just goes to show you are human. I would feel bad too. “

Assuming that Puerto Rico is not racist because we promote the concept of our identity being born out of the “mixing” of the races is an illogical assumption that furthermore unfounded and belied in everyday interactions.  But like any other children my children learn the mythic formula of Puerto Rican identity in school.  They are Puerto Rican because that is what they are told and learn and struggle with as they challenge teachers and books.

Puerto Rican O’Malleys, 4 of a kind, not represented in books for which I tell them the future is for them to write. They are part of a history of Puerto Rican migrations and American political economy that is white-washed, or shall I say criollo-washed.  I tell them what I know of this history.  They know why, and where, and how, they are what they are, and that that is just the begining.

Javier, Freiken, Shishi, and I

“Mami, Freiken invited me to his birthday and it is going to be in the park with a Brinca-brinca.” Javier says energetically interrupting the sudden silence that filled the car upon dropping off Jaimito and Olaia in school.
“OK Javier, that sounds nice. But where does Freiken live?” I ask.
“He lives far away Mami.” he answers without hesitating.
“Does he have a nice family? Is he a nice boy?” I delve into his story looking to understand.
“Yes Mami, his Daddy’s name is Francis and his mommy’s name is Franzisha. They are a nice family Mami.”

If you are wondering about this odd sounding family…or wondering how to say the son’s name, don’t sweat it. Meet my son’s imaginary friend and his family.  Yes, Javier, did not only craft up an imaginary friend, his friend came along with a mom, dad, a sister and a baby brother.

When I first started hearing Javier tell stories about Freiken, I was a bit concerned. How can this son of mine, the third out of four be in need of an imaginary anything when there are kids all around him? I researched the topic of imaginary friends and what developmental needs they might address, what it revealed of a child or about my role as parent.  As I read more on the subject, I came to be less anxiety ridden about the possibility that it might be an imaginary friend.

Moreover, as I am around my children 90% of the time, I was able to observe my child and see that Freiken was never present. Javier never spoke to him directly. This was not a textbook case of “imaginary friends.”

Then I caught a glimpse of myself as a child and my vivid imagination and burning desire to tell stories, to  entertain or entertain myself:

Flashback: I used to chat my Mom and Dad´s ear off.

Fastforward to present: Javier is a non-stop chatter box.

Creative, chatty, outgoing, energetic, fun, and temperamental are all adjectives that would have described me as a young child. They also describe my son Javier. Javier is so fun to have around! It is so quiet when he is absent.

I have become accustomed to hearing occasionally of Javier’s friend Freiken. The stories usually pop up when Javier does not  have a story of his own to add.  Jaimito and Olaia talk about school, Javier talks about his day of school and his homework. Olaia informs me of a birthday party she was invited to and later that day when I am alone with Javier…

“Shishi is bigger, she is my friend. She is bigger than Jaimito. She swims in water without a floatie, she is bigger than Jaimito.

“Mami you know Freiken plays with his sister? They play dinosaur king, and dinosaur t rex and monkey king” “Freiken plays with me alot.”

For a while I was concerned that Javier insisted on speaking about his imaginary friend Freiken, but  I finally came to terms with it, understanding the stories to be a manifestation of Javier’s desire to be heard, to tell stories, to engage me! And so he did, and I listened and probed and enjoyed what his stories told me about Javier.

Rediscovering the Basics in American Cooking

Living in the Basque Country shattered our two dimensional approach to a basic staple, mayonnaise. The Basques made their own mayonnaise at home, often with fresh farm eggs,  and then with unexpected twists and turns, some mixed in lemon instead of vinegar, others added garlic. The explosive taste of fresh made mayonnaise made sandwiches stand out. The famous Basque tradition of pintxos probably is memorable to visitors for the exciting dimension of fresh mayo.  

Back living in the US, and thereafter the Caribbean, we have continued to make our own mayonnaise. We have added yogurt to the mix, tasted the difference of corn or canola, extra-virgin olive oil vs a blended olive oil and of course added the occasional garlic. 

More recently we have embarked on making our own ketchup. The task began with the basic reading of the list of ingredients on the back of a purchased  product. Then ensued several blind taste tests. We are still arriving at our favorite and exact mix. In the meantime, as with the mayo, I do not miss store bought ketchup. Ever try mayo-ketchup?  When both are freshly made it is fabulous!

Our next culinary basic on the horizon…. home-made peanut butter.

But for those who are curious here is our recipe in progress… feel free to share any tips.


  • 12 oz of tomato paste (2 small cans)
  • 9oz of vinegar (using the same can as a measure as the paste its 1 1/2 can)
  • 1/2 an onion ground in
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 3 table spoons of sugar
  • Then put the bowl in the microwave to cook for 4 min. to minimize the sharp edge of the onion.


  • one clove of garlic
  • Puerto Rican spices (adobo – a mixture of salt, pepper (black and white), garlic and a bunch of other stuff I’m too lazy to read off the ingredients.
  • 1 cup blended olive oil (extra virgin has too much taste. You want something more innocuous)
  • 1 fresh farm egg
  • 1 tbsp of lemon juice or vinegar
  • Use an immersion blender to emulsify the product into a mayonnaise consistency.
  • *Optional: I also blend in two tablespoons of non-fat yogurt. It smooths out the taste and cuts the calories a bit.
For more recipes from our home to yours…click here.

Family: the joy that money cannot buy

I am a working mother of four.  An entrepreneur and an eternal student.  In my circles, mothers of four are rare.  As people find out that I am a mother of four  I often get condolescences, chastized, called a nut, and assumed to be frazzled and unhappy, burdened by some accident. This is no “accident” as some might think.  It is not a “burden.”

My life is a labor of love. My husband is my best friend and a great complement to my abilities. We live and work with a passion for most everything we do. We both enjoy being parents. We have plenty of gripes and difficulties but we have and know love.

My house is not magazine material.  From the street you will probably hear a fair share of  chaos and drama.  I have plenty of moments when I wonder if we are doing things “right.” Is each child getting the attention they need to blossom? How are our limitations truncating the abilities of our children? I feel responsible for the choices we have made, for deviating from what I see is the norm, deviating from the expectations that were held for me.

Serendipity Strikes

Last night, I was driving home with the three older kids. As we are pulling up to our tiny house in our 8 year old focus station wagon my daughter, age 9, turns to me and says: “Mom is it ok if I have 4 kids?”

“Olaia” I said, “you can have how many kids you and your husband think are right. It may be four it may be less, it is not something you can decide on now. Would you like to have 4 kids?” “Oh yes mommy, I want to be a mommy and I like a family like ours,” she said sweetly.  Out from the back seat, Jaimito, our second child who is now 5 years old chimed: “Mami, I am going to have 5 kids. And I am going to call my first son James the Sixth and then I am going to have 2 more boys and 2 girls. The other two boys will be called James the first and James the second, because those two James are now dead and we can remember them this way.”

I was tickled by all the joyful fun talk about family. Knowing that my two older kids genuinely seemed to  like their lot in life, they liked their life so much they wanted to reproduce it.  I worry plenty about their present and future but as I walked out of the car I said to them: “Sounds like your homes are going to be a fun-loving place to be!”

My worries still remain. I think it comes with the territory of being a caring mom and striving to do the “right” thing.  But, at least for a while I soaked, bathed by the love my children showered me with, a found a serendipitous answer to my silent questions.

The charm of our little yellow house

"Mom are we in St. Louis yet?" Javier asked as we were up in the sky and a thick layer of clouds made it seem like the plane was standing still. "No, Javier, not yet…" I replied.
"When I get to Mama  ‘ouise’s  house I am going to make a snowman with Jaimito and Olaia," Javier continued. His foreshadowing of events required explanation, "Javier, when we get to St. Louis there wont be any snow, it will be warm like it is back home. You will be able to play outside jump in the pool, play in the swings, ride the big wheels on the round about… you will have a lot of fun but there will be no snow. Snow is for winter and Christmas, Now its summer and it will be hot." "OK, Mami" my answer seemed to satisfy him or at least send his day-dreaming in a new direction.
"Mami are we in St. Louis yet? I want to play with Logan." Javier chimed, as he sat next to me on the plane landed in Miami. "Not yet… Javier, we have to take another plane. In two more hours we will be in St. Louis, but you probably wont see Logan until tomorrow."

Javier was exploding with sentences, thoughts bubbling over in anticipation of visiting his grandparent’s house. I couldn’t blame him. We all look forward to these visits. Kids play with their cousins, grown ups catch up on each other’s lives, politics and daily events are discussed and debated. It is all good fun and the warmth of family is ever present.

Imagine our surprise when after all this non-stop excitement, as Javier is becoming overwhelmed by exhaustion he tells me "OK Mami, I’m tired lets go home."

Continue reading The charm of our little yellow house

The Spark to Jumpstart Our Economy

William Damon’s book, "The Path to Purpose" is not yet on my bookshelf but in the meantime I read an article on the books key findinds in Education Week (June 11, 2008), "Majority of Youths Found To Lack Direction in Life." It seems that Damon’s findings point to one fifth of survey participants as having a "spark" or a purpose. In other words, 20% of our youth felt passionately about something, had been involved in the community, had an idea of what they wanted to do in life and were committed to leading productive lives. The downside is that 80% of our youth are either "disengaged" from their communities, unfocused or dreamers.

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Why so concerned with “happiness”

My kids see my husband and I all the time. Up to the age of 4 we are both the primary care givers. Once they begin school and music lessons they begin to meet the world. Schooling ends and again they are again in the fold of their parents. So much togetherness forces the issue of emotions.   My children have seen all range of emotions. They know that I can cry when I am tired and tense,  I can be angry when I am feeling sorry about something, or be grouchy when I am tired or hungry. While I am scolding them and upset, dissapointed or frustrated I sometimes remind them I love them at the same time I reiterate how I feel and why. 

My 6 year old explained to my 3 year old who had just spilled milk all over the coffee table within a foot of my laptop: "Javier, mami may be mad at you but she always loves you." It was good to know that through all the repetition the message had stuck. Not only the messages seem to be understood, the emotional analysis seems to be catching on too… Javier (3y) will now turn around and tell me when I deny him a petition that he is "very angry with me because I am being mean with him because I said no when he wanted to play with play dough". I congratulated him on his complete assessment, gave him a hug, told him I loved him and still said "no."

Now, the next time I say "no" or have my children bummed out I will go the extra step and set them to do some home based learning activity: puzzles, mind games, reading or math. I just read in Education Week (June 11, 2008) in an article by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo that happy is not all its cracked up to be in learning circles. It seems students  who were feeling melancholy, somber, neutral or just not happy were better at detail oriented tasks and math. Students who were happy were less able to concentrate and made more mistakes.

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Rites of Passage

There is no denying time, it passes whether you want it to or not. Last night my sweet little girl, my first born whom I can still recall as a newborn infant, asked me if she could cuddle up next to me and fall asleep on my bed. She is now a 4’10",  lanky version of that little puddle of joy. How could I deny her cuddling with Mami.  I read her Nancy Drew and allowed her to fall asleep.without having to move. I stared at her beautiful face as she dreamed a sweet dream, I am sure. I remember how having her fall asleep on my chest or next me quieted down my brain and gave me peace. Her presence by my side focused my my every thought as a profound sense of unlimited love took over my being.

 Ironically, the morning after she wanted to fall asleep like a little baby snuggled against her Mami was the day she wanted to go with all of her posse in tow to the Piercing Pagoda and have her ears pierced.

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Celebrando la Semana Santa con mis hijos

Este año el trabajo invadió mi tiempo de reflexión durante la Cuaresma. Las semanas pasaban y no tuve tiempo para pensar en imperfecciones, flaquezas que mejorar, el tiempo traicionaba mi mejor intención. Pero mi sincero deseo por crear espacios de espiritualidad trascendental en mi vida y la de mi familia fueron escuchados y pude reconectar con las tradiciones de Semana Santa de mi niñez como adulto.

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