Busted Halo

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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July 21st, 2010

Barrio vs. Suburb


lalupe-003-house-flashNot 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.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and five daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft

    I am Mexican-American meaning that while I am happily and proudly American, I also have an obligation to the Mexican part, too. It would be easy to raise my child in a home devoid of any sense of her Mexican heritage and to go along with the status quo around us. But I don’t want to do that and I don’t think that makes me un-American. I think a lot of people wish they still knew something about their roots. My husband is of German descent–he doesn’t know anything about it and always talks about wishing he did. He wished he had been taught German since his grandparents spoke it. I don’t think it’s un-American to want to know your roots and have that be part of your life.

    But it is a good point that there are lots of different kinds of poverty, not just financial. So while living in the suburbs means we won’t see a lot of people pushing shopping carts filled with all their possessions, it does mean that our fellow suburbanites need as much “love thy neighbor” as our old neighbors.

  • Gage Blackwood

    Good for you for wrestling with this issue. It’s too easy to do what we want without thinking about how it impacts others or other dimensions of our own lives.

    I don’t think Vanessa bashed the suburbs–just saying that she wasn’t sure it is right for her. It’s hard to live somewhere that is culturally completely different, even if it is “better” for someone and their family.

    Frank–examining one’s life isn’t a sign of confusion. Socrates said “an unexamined life is not worth living”. Religion aside, it’s good to look inside of yourself on major decisions like where to live (ideally) for a long time and raise your children.

  • Frank Lopez

    You seem to be a confused person. Do and live where you want. Religion is as empty as your head,

  • William Gilroy

    How sad for you,Mrs. Kraft. You are American. There is nothing wrong with being AMERICAN. You are blind to the goodness of America. A goodness your family sacrificed all to bring you too. That person living next door to is your neighbor and we all know what Jesus says about your neighbor. Love thy neighbr as you would have him love you. NOT love thy mexican. As a suburban American I am offended.
    But, it’s OK because in America you are allowed to have your opinion. As a christian I forgive you and will pray for you.

  • Nick Swanson

    Vanessa, excellent article as always, but you should never feel guilty about your success. You are a very holy and giving person, and you deserve the blessings God has given you. Why would you second guess yourself? The poor people you serve would do anything to have the opportunity to move to the suburbs with a good job, a nice house, and a loving family. Your Hispanic family members and ancestors would also be so proud to see their kin achieve the American dream at such an early age. Move to the suburbs. Raise your children in a safe environment. Send them to private schools. Write books. Retire early. Enjoy your life. Strive for excellence and progress forward. Jesus says, “I come that you might have life and have it in abundance.”

    Catholics should never be afraid or timid about success. The poor need Nelson D. Rockefeller as much as they need Mother Teresa. The Church will always need successful members of the community to keep money flowing from the secular world to the poor. That is a vocation as well, and thank God he has called you to this new stage of life.

  • S.A. Roach

    Vanessa, good questions all, the sign of a healthy conscience. I have another for you: does geography really affect the nature of compassion?

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