Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.
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Barrio vs. Suburb
Not that I base all my decisions on this, but I frequently find myself wondering if my choices make me more or less “Mexican”. I think it stems from when I was 12 and my parents and I moved from El Paso to a suburb of Houston. We visited El Paso six months later for Christmas. My cousin told me I sounded weird when I spoke. I asked her why and she responded, “I dunno, you kinda sound like a white person.” Silly but it was just one of those life events that stuck with me.
As I grew up and grew into my faith more, I didn’t only wonder if my actions seemed “Mexican” but also if they seemed Catholic.
My latest dilemma has been looking to buy a house. My husband has started a job that requires him to work from home which has quickly turned our little apartment into a near-unbearable situation. A light-sleeper baby and a hubby that has to make phone calls all day is a bad combination. So, off we went to the ever-frustrating housing market.
We tried to narrow down the neighborhoods in Austin we would like to live in/are reasonably priced.
Gentrification is happening all over Austin so if you want a house in central Austin whether it is in the very nice neighborhoods, decent neighborhoods, or rougher neighborhoods, housing prices have all skyrocketed.
My husband can barely hang a picture so a fixer-upper was out of the question.
Then we decided to venture out of central Austin. We found out very quickly why people move to the suburbs. Money just goes much further.
This may seem like a clear-cut choice to most people. I’m well aware that we are extremely blessed to be in a position to buy a home; I don’t take that for granted. But I could not stop asking myself if this decision would completely squash the “Mexican-ness” of our family. Am I less Mexican if I live in a suburb and am surrounded by mostly non-Hispanic families? Am I selling out?
And on the other side, does living in suburbia make me less Catholic? I was lucky enough to take a class from Gustavo Gutierrez (the founder of liberation theology and a man who has dedicated his whole life to the option for the poor) and I will never forget what he told us one day, “You cannot be for the poor unless you are a friend of the poor.” My faith really thrives on daily contact with the poor. Brandon and I pride ourselves on our urban lifestyle where we walk to anything we need and come across plenty of homeless people in the process. I have to intentionally buy a few more food items when I go to the grocery store so that I can have something to give the panhandler on the corner on my way home. Because of this we are constantly forced to remember that our faith calls us to more than just going to church on Sunday.
I have encountered plenty of great Catholic families that live in the suburbs and are still very involved in work with the poor. But can we be that? Can I really be a friend of the poor if I have to drive who-knows-how-long until I get to a house that doesn’t look like mine and doesn’t have a neatly trimmed yard? Can I be a friend of the poor if I don’t encounter them on a daily basis? Is my daughter going to grow up being scared of anyone that looks different and acts different from what she sees on her street?
My husband and I debated this a lot as we went back and forth on which house to buy. We found a great house in an area where our next door neighbor would have been a 90 year old man with a tiny house and a scrap tin roof. The neighborhood was safe enough and we would be around lots of Hispanic families. But then we found this other house for less money and even more room for our growing family…in the ‘burbs.
After a lot of soul searching we decided on the suburban house.
Am I selling out? Am I forsaking the poor? Am I less “Mexican”? Am I less Catholic? God, I hope not.