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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January 13th, 2011

matriarch-flashI cannot believe that Christmas and New Year’s is over.  It passed by in such a blur.  This year the holidays were very different for me than before.  This year I became the matriarch.  This year I was in charge.  And let me tell you, I don’t know how much I like this role change.  To be in charge of Christmas, that is a lot of pressure.

As I am sure many other couples do, we alternate holidays between the Kraft family and the Gonzalez family.  Whenever it is the Gonzalez’s turn, we pack up and head to El Paso to see La Lupe. This year Brandon’s mother and brother (and brother’s dog) all came down to Austin and spent a week with us.  It was great.  We don’t get to see them much and Olivia loved having them here.  I am lucky to have married into a family that is so laid back and easygoing.  Add to that my parents who came into town for a few days around Christmas.  It was a full house and it was great…except that since I am the wife and mother of the house, I was in charge…of everything: cooking, Christmas activities, fun, …

December 23rd, 2010

saying-yes-flashThe other day I was scooting down the stairs with Olivia when I was struck with such a strong feeling of gratitude for her that I immediately began crying and clutched her to my chest.  I know it seems rote to say, but having a child is one of the greatest gifts that God can give.  I almost cannot contain the love that I feel for her sometimes.  There is not a single day that passes that I don’t feel thankful for being a mother.

Don’t get me wrong.  Being a parent, while more wonderful than I imagined, is also way harder than I ever imagined it being.  It isn’t always rainbows and puppies.  Olivia’s sleeping was a nightmare for a while.  I (thankfully) did not have postpartum depression but around O’s 8 month mark I definitely sunk into some kind of depression.  I just couldn’t quite adjust to my role of being home all the time.  Our marriage has definitely borne its share of neglect because of focusing too much on Olivia and our separate jobs.  Point is: it hasn’t been a cakewalk, but, like most things that are hard, it has been worth it.

During a Catholic wedding …

December 16th, 2010

La-Virgencita-flashSunday was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  In our household, the day came and went without any special celebration.  Honestly, I would have completely forgotten that it was her feast day except that it was also La Lupe’s birthday.  No church in our diocese was allowed to celebrate an Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass because this feast day is trumped by the celebration of the third Sunday in Advent.

On a typical feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe there is a whole lot of hoopla and celebration.  You wake up super early and go to church at 5am to hear mariachis sing Las Mañanitas.  Then, later in the day, you arrive at church to see a crowd of children dressed up as San Juan Diego with his tilma carrying roses.  There are matachines dancing and drumming.  There are more mariachis.  The church is usually wall to wall with people.  Lots of colorful banners, lots of music, lots of movement.  It is such a show of love for La Virgen.

The Mass that we went to was pretty much the opposite of this.  Because of our schedule on Sunday, we ended up needing to go to Mass …

December 10th, 2010

Fear-and-Pregnancy-in-AdventI’m 30 weeks pregnant now, 40 weeks is the due date, and I cannot ignore the inevitable.  Up until this point I haven’t really had to come to grips with giving birth to my second child.  I’ve been able to avoid thinking about it because of how far off it seemed but now I have to face it.  Physically, there is no way for me to avoid the fast-approaching day when this baby (God willing) will enter this world.  I’ve been clipping corners in my house and hitting my belly with the refrigerator door because it is getting that much in the way now.  I even have to take an extra step back when I open drawers and have to consciously position the seatbelt and seat when I’m driving.

I think that God purposefully made pregnancy last so long because by the end of it fear is replaced by the sheer readiness to no longer be pregnant.  Replaced by almost exasperation to get this baby out just so your body doesn’t have to bear the weight and waddling anymore.  But I’m not there yet.  I can’t help but feel this looming fear.  When I really think about it, I know, …

December 2nd, 2010

lalupe-advent-conspiracyI don’t know what possessed me to buy it.  I was in a store and I saw this kind of rolodex that cataloged all the Native Americans of North America.  It contained the Pima Indians which is a tribe that Brandon and I worked with for many years.  I saw it and bought it thinking that it was a perfect Christmas gift for Brandon.  Had I put more thought into it, I would have realized that he had absolutely no use for American Indian flashcards.  We had just started dating at the time so he had to act really excited to receive the gift but, as the years have passed, we laugh about how off my gift-giving skills were with this purchase.

We’re all guilty of it: buying gifts for others that we should probably have put more thought into.

I always find myself feeling a little irked when I receive a gift that is going to go directly to the give-away box.  I just hate the thought of someone wasting their time and money buying something for me that I will never use.  Like a candle or some flowery smelling body spray.  I cannot appreciate gifts such as these.  …

November 11th, 2010

lalupe-flag&church-flashI love churches.  I really do.  Back before we had Olivia, Brandon and I would take regular trips around Austin and its surrounding cities to visit churches we had never been in before.  I love the art, stained glass windows, smell, architecture, everything.  Kinda dorky, but it’s one of our favorite things to do together.

One time I visited this particular church and decided to stay for daily Mass.  There was a small group of people there and one of them was a policeman in complete uniform: gun, walkie talkie, baton and all.  This really struck me.  I thought how much faith this man must have to still attend daily Mass when, I could only assume, he was on duty or about to go on duty.  Mass continued and it was during the Lamb of God that the Eucharistic ministers (EMs) came forward.  One of the EMs was this very same policeman.  I am sure that my mouth dropped because of how shocked I was.

All sorts of questions were flying through my head.  Was I going to feel uneasy receiving Communion from a policeman in full uniform?  Should I?  Is this man going to write me a ticket for …

November 4th, 2010

lalupe-tithing-flashTithing used to be emphasized a lot more in the past as necessary to lead a good Christian life but has fallen out of favor.

I recently taught my students about stewardship which included a lesson on tithing.  I thought it was an important lesson to teach because my experience is that people don’t think that it is important to give money to the Church.  Some people get extremely offended when they are told that the Church needs money.  They don’t think it is the Church’s business what they do with their money and how dare the Church tell them that they have to give what they have worked so hard for and deserve.  Some have actually walked out of the church when the priest has to give his once-a-year homily on the finances of the church.

In the Gospels, Jesus teaches so many lessons about money.  Why?  Because it is so hard to detach ourselves from money.  It is so easy to justify keeping and using money.

Well, I could pledge to help this high school student go on a mission trip but we need to keep saving up for Suzy’s college fund.

I could give money but I …

October 21st, 2010

lalupe-toomuchlove-flashSince I am a parent I am now a lot more observant of parenting methods I see around me.  Sometimes I see really good parenting, like the mom that sees her child struggling to climb the slide at the playground but let’s them struggle a little bit before stepping in.  Sometimes kids just have to figure out stuff for themselves.

I also notice not-so-good-parenting.  Like the mom that has grape soda in her baby’s bottle when the kid isn’t any older than 4 months.  Note to self, don’t do that.

But one parenting method that people may not label as harmful is the mom that loves her family too much.

I believe that a mother, if her love for her family is not ordered in the right way, can actually love her family so much that it is harmful.  I’ve heard that argument that loving your family too much is better than being a negligent mother but I think both are extremes at either end of the spectrum and both harmful.

Of course this can relate to anyone who loves another person, a girlfriend, a brother, a grandfather, a daughter, a husband, an aunt, etc.

When I am talking about …

October 15th, 2010

boobies-flashThis summer when we were visiting my family in El Paso I got to meet the boyfriend of one of my cousins.  She’s a younger cousin who just graduated from high school.  When I met him I immediately noticed the bracelet that he had on that said “i love boobies”.  I rolled my eyes and thought how tacky.  You’re meeting your girlfriend’s family and you wear something like that.  Then after him hanging around all day he brought our attention to the bracelet.  He took his arm out and waved it over the dinner table asking us if we had seen these bracelets.  He informed us that the bracelet was to support breast cancer.  In my head, my response was, “My a**.”  A guy in his late teens, early twenties is wearing something with the word boobies on it because he is truly committed to supporting breast cancer awareness.  Sure.

We all kind of nodded and went on with dinner.  I didn’t think much of this event at the time but recently I have seen an onslaught of inappropriate breast cancer awareness things that I just have to say something about.

I am completely in support of breast cancer awareness …

September 29th, 2010

mexicanwedding-insideWe were lucky enough to attend the wedding of a good friend this past weekend.  We had someone watch Olivia so we were able to be there for all of it: the rehearsal dinner, the Nuptial Mass, the whole reception.  It was quite a treat.

It made us reminisce a lot about our wedding.  The thing that I still chuckle about when I think of our wedding is what things people assumed happened at our wedding because I’m Latina and what things they didn’t really seem to notice.

Things that people assumed:…

Many people asked me if my wedding dress had been passed down from La Lupe.  Nope, just happened to like a dress that had that old lace, traditional vibe.
People asked me if the big flower I wore in my hair was so that I looked more Spanish (I guess it did look flamenco-y).  Nope, I actually am not sure how much Spanish blood I have in me anyways.  I know I’m mostly native Mexican, like Indian Mexican.  I just found a $3 flower hairpin at H&M in New York when I was visiting and fell in love with it.
People asked me if I was going to

September 22nd, 2010

family-idolsI’m happy that the last post has really sparked some good dialogue about trying to balance spirituality and family and how to integrate the two.

I was remembering one of my professors back in college. We were discussing Advent and Christmas liturgy when he went off on a tangent about family life. He said, “You know, sometimes I think people make idols out of their family.” He then went on to talk about this Christian church around his house that actually had no services on Christmas Eve or on Christmas because they believed that you should be at home with your family and not having to take time away from your family by having to come to a church service. I thought that story illustrated his point perfectly.

For the longest time we faithfully went to Mass every Sunday and all holy days of obligation except for Christmas Mass. Why? Because too much needed to be done at home to get ready for Christmas dinner with the family. Cleaning and prepping and decorating and cooking. No time for Mass.

I have found that it is very easy to make an idol out of family. To put family before even God …

September 15th, 2010

lalupe-humilityparenting-flashThroughout my life I have worked with kids a lot.  I started babysitting when I was twelve.  I have about fifty cousins and at least half of them are younger than me.  All throughout high school and college I’ve tutored, mentored, camp counseled, and run programs for kids.  At the Catholic Worker I was basically a second mom to at least 8 kids at any one time.  I helped moms load newborns into the car to ride home from the hospital and had to keep the peace when the kids would fight at dinnertime.  Not that after all this experience I thought I was an expert on kids and discipline but I definitely thought I had a pretty good handle on what it meant to be a parent.

I could not have been more wrong.

I have quickly come to realize that kids are going to cry, scream, shout, kick, and fuss at exactly the wrong time regardless of how good your parenting is.  Parents should still try to lovingly teach their children discipline, but even the most well-behaved kid will sometimes just totally breakdown in public.

Despite our best efforts to teach Olivia how to act respectfully, she is …

September 8th, 2010

lalupe-recdrugs-flash3The latest story about the massacre of immigrants in Tamaulipas, Mexico by the drug cartels has me thinking about the issue of recreational drug use again. Of course it is not a good idea to do anything illegal but I think there is a distinct difference between drug addicts and people who just use drugs at parties or to wind down after a long week. I’ve known plenty of people in this second category. These are educated people, have stable jobs, and are generally aware of social justice issues. We all have skeletons in the closet and we all struggle with certain things but buying drugs, even if only occasionally, is directly supporting the violence that is perpetuated by drug trafficking. How is it justifiable to use illegal drugs?

LA to Santa Barbara. Austin to San Antonio. Chicago to South Bend, IN. Philadelphia to Baltimore. That is how close these immigrants were to the US border. They make the long journey from South/Central America to the US only to be murdered 100 miles from their destination. I can’t stop thinking about how heart-wrenching that is.

Obviously immigration and drug trafficking are extremely complex issues with lots of different factors but …

August 31st, 2010

lalupe-a_life_of_significanceWe regularly receive the Houston Catholic Worker newspaper and the latest issue contained a big surprise.  The couple that founded Casa Juan Diego, the Houston Catholic Worker, is having another book released in November.

If I tried to tell you about the myriad of services that Casa Juan Diego offers there is really no way of doing it justice.  It is a house of hospitality for undocumented women, children, and men.  They have an ever-growing huge ministry helping the undocumented sick and injured.  They have food and clothing distributions several times a week for the community.  They have clinics with a variety of doctors and dentists that donate their time.  They have a big organic garden that provides food for all these different houses.  They print a newspaper.  And the list goes on and on.  Somehow the couple that runs the place has found time to write another book.  It’s truly amazing.  These people really work and live as if everything depended on it.

After Brandon and I read through this paper and pre-ordered their new book, we just sat in our living room staring at each other.  When you hear about a life like this that is so clearly …

August 19th, 2010

emailforwards-flashThe dreaded email forwards.  Pictures of puppies wearing hats, drawings of angels, images of sunsets.  I don’t get a lot of these emails except for the occasional prayer chain letter from my mom.  But poor Brandon gets a lot of them.  I think it’s because he likes computers so people think he will like any email sent to him.   Usually they are pretty harmless.  The ones that I can’t stand are the ones the spread ignorance and intolerance.

Brandon recently received an email forward from a person that he knows in a professional capacity.  I won’t repeat the exact email but it was a joke about Mexicans that insinuated that they are all lazy and should go back to Mexico.

Let’s put aside for a moment that this man sent this email to my husband knowing full well that I’m Mexican-American.

What makes me mad is that the people who write things and forward things like this are not putting any thought into their opinion.  They are not making logical arguments or good points or adding anything to the immigration debate except unfiltered xenophobia and prejudice.  There are many opinions about immigration and many different solutions but calling immigrants lazy …

August 13th, 2010

isitworthit-flashI recently had a conversation with an old friend who was thinking about making some major life decisions without telling her family about it.  She knew they would disapprove and she didn’t want to deal with them.  She justified it by saying that she believed in what she was doing and just wanted to do it and tell everyone later.

This is a tough issue.  There is great tension between wanting to be independent, to be your own person, to make your own decisions and your responsibility to your family.

After 25 years of having to figure out what to share and not share with my family, it’s still a tough call each time.  I know that I don’t want to have to lie to my family so I try not hide things that I’ll have to lie about to cover it up but at the same time I don’t tell them every detail about my life.  It’s one thing to get a tattoo that you never tell mom about because hopefully she’ll never see it.  It’s quite another thing to elope and move out of state saying adios to the family through your rear view mirror as your drive …

August 6th, 2010

lalupe-pilgrimage-flashWe’ve all heard that life is a great pilgrimage.  But a pilgrimage to what?  The pastor of a church here in Austin has in his email signature line “Working to beat hell”.  That’s what I hope my pilgrimage is.  To heaven.  To God.  To Infinite Love.  Sometimes we have to make specific journeys to find this more deeply, though.

I’ve been lucky to find some great friends and to find love in these communities but there is something different about feeling the love of family.  It’s a different connection; a blood connection; a connection that is part of you.  I know a lot of people probably don’t feel this all the time and I am one of them.  Family relationships can be complicated and messy sometimes.

I have a huge extended family with 14 aunts and uncles and countless cousins and everyone in everyone else’s business.  They aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination but I love them dearly.  I’ve always felt on the outside of them but have always really ached for their approval and affection.

Whenever we go back to El Paso to visit La Lupe and the fam I always feel like it is a pilgrimage.  …

July 29th, 2010

Being Mexican-American can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.  Err on the side of Mexican and you’re un-American.  Err on the side of American and you’re a sell-out.  It reminds me of that scene in Selena when her dad completely freaks out, “We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!”  It’s a little melodramatic but sometimes I feel the same way.  I feel like I can never satisfy either side.

There are so many ways people live out their Mexican-ity.  I have friends that are dark-skinned, have an accent when they speak English and yet don’t speak Spanish at all.  I have friends that were never taught Spanish or anything about their Mexican background but decided to take charge of it in college and learn Spanish and the culture and live as if they grew up in a Mexican household.  I know people who go by Louis when their name is really Luis.  I know people that have taken on an Aztec name in place of their name to be more true to their roots.  I find all these differences …

July 21st, 2010

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 …

July 14th, 2010

LaLupe.wedding.INSIDEEverything seemed to be going according to plan.  La Lupe’s plan for my life was chugging along without a hitch.

I got through high school without any problems.  I started college.  I graduated from college.  I still went to Mass.  I still spoke Spanish.  After graduation I went to work at a Catholic Worker House.  She was proud of me and was always very vocal about it.

I had taken a pretty different path from most of my cousins and she was happy about it.  Most of my cousins graduated from high school, some went on to college, most left the Church.  Children and marriage did not follow any particular order.

I think what makes La Lupe proudest of me, though, is that I am still Catholic and faithful.  She can talk to me about homilies she heard and about La Virgencita.  She can’t do this with many people in my family.  They either don’t listen or tell her that she shouldn’t worship Mary.  We’re able to connect on a deeper faith level.

Up to this point our relationship had carried on without any hiccups.  I never worried about telling her anything and I never felt like I needed …

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