Date: July 12, 2006
Interviewers: Jason Siska
Hello, my name is Jason Siska and today is July 12 and I am interviewing Beth Echeverria. What are some of the factors that influenced your family to come to Bloomington-Normal?
What do you do?
I teach at Illinois State University, in the Education department.
Where did you work previously?
I worked in Indianapolis for a year and prior to that in North Carolina.
From what I know being in class with you, you are married to a Mexican-American.
Actually, he was born in Mexico and lived there until he was about three and then he came here.
In this interview, I was going to primarily focus on your relationship with him and some of the issues you and your children face growing up in a bi-racial relationship. When you and your husband first met, what were some of the issues you faced being a bi-racial couple?
I think both of our families were a little disappointed. I think his family…I mean all his brothers have married outside of the Mexican “norm.” His brother married a Puerto Rican woman which there is this big conflict between Mexicans and Puerto Ricans so his family wasn’t too happy about that. Then, his second brother married a white woman from Indiana, and then I’m a white woman from Indiana so his family was a little disappointed but they had already been through that. And then, you know, I grew up in a small town that was largely all white so both of my parents were resistant to the idea, too…and the fact that we told people we got married after the fact didn’t help a lot of things, either.
Could you give me an example of an issue that you face with your family?
Ummmmm…..? I went around and around with my mom because she wouldn’t admit that it was because he was Mexican even though that’s really what it was. Well, I can give you an example! The first time he came to meet my family, for many of my family, they had never met someone who was Latino or even someone who wasn’t white before. So, we came home for Thanksgiving, no,Christmas, because we got married right around Thanksgiving, and he came home with me for Christmas, and that was the first time my family had met him.
Were your parents unaware that you had gotten married?
No, they knew we had gotten married, and my aunt had a little surprise party for us. But, one of my uncles walked up to José and shook his hand and said, “so how long ya’ been here?” and José says, “not long, you know, we just got off the plane yesterday, and drove down from Indianapolis.” My uncle said, “no, no, how long ya’ been here?”and José looked at him and said, “well, just about a day” and my uncle said, “no, how long ya’ been here in the country?” and José just looked at him and said, “well, about 25 years.” So, my uncle kind of got embarrassed…he was trying to do what he could to relate, but he made a pretty big assumption about José. There was other stuff, too, assumptions about if José could speak English or not. The whole irony of it is that growing up in North Carolina, José has a southern drawl when he talks, so even then people in my family said he doesn’t speak English very well. People were also spelling his name wrong, we were getting cards in the mail and instead of his name being spelled José, people were spelling it Hose.
Outside of the family, what are some of the challenges you face, in the public eye, being in a bi-racial coupe? Primarily if you have any experiences while living in Bloomington-Normal.
Well, when we first got married we were living in Durham [spelled Derum in original typed interview], North Carolina, and in Durham [spelled Derum in original typed interview], the population is about only 40 percent white. So, it was a racially diverse community, so we did not stand out as a bi-racial couple, and we knew other biracial couples, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. But, when we came into McLean County, like even the first time we walked through the Eastland Mall, we received a lot of stares from people and people blatantly giving us dirty looks. WE just seem to draw more attention. It’s hard on José because we’ll go out to eat and he’s often the only person that is not white and from moving from Durham [spelled Derum in original typed interview], that kind of thing just didn’t happen there , so it’s been a big adjustment for him. I worry about our children growing up here because I want them to feel good about who they are, and if we are in a county that it’s hard for them…well, one thing is the option of being around other Latino children. The situation for them is different because they’re not going to be in an ESL (English-as-Second-Language) program. So,…I don’t know. I just worry about them.
Do you believe Bloomington-Normal is a diverse community?
It’s a bit small, it’s more diverse than the area I grew up in. But, no, in comparison to a lot of the places we lived in North Carolina, and not in comparison to Indianapolis. So, it’s probably the least diverse place I have lived in about 10 years, and it’s the least diverse place José has ever lived.
When you are out with your children and not with your husband, do you still feel people look at you and treat you differently?
No, my children have really light skin. I do know that with my brother-in-law and his wife, their children have darker skin. What she has had happen, my sister-in-law, is that people will automatically assume they are adopted. I think that has to be hard when people make that assumption when they are your own children, just because their skin color is not the same as yours. I don’t have that kind of problem, but I think sometimes eyebrows get raised when I tell people their names which are Diego and Lupita. Then, people try and find out in a roundabout way why I have kids named Lupita and Diego. But, no, I don’t feel that when I am just with them.
Moving from Indianapolis and North Carolina to here, what do you think the Hispanic community is like here? If it’s isolated to a certain area or spread out, do you see a lot of people from the Hispanic community around town?
I think it’s really interesting because I think the community is very acclimated and I think the majority of the people live on the west side of town. It’s interesting because a lot of people I work with who live on te east side of town say that they think the Spanish population is very small here. But, if you live on the east side and stay on the east side most of the time, you probably don’t have a whole lot of interaction with Latinos and don’t have an idea of how large the community is here. I think it’s much larger than what a lot of people realize. I think there is evidence with the marches this spring, people were really surprised with how many people came out and that didn’t even represent the whole community. You go to Spanish Mass or just churches in the area, I think there’s a lot more people here than you think and you look at the Latino stores, which seem to be doing well.
Dealing with your kids and school, what are some of your fears of your children being raised under bi-racial parents in a primarily white community?
I think some of the dangers in that is often within schools there just typically inherently racist. A lot of teachers have good intentions, but have not had the training to prepare them to work w ith diverse student populations. So, a lot of times in school, you see only pictures of white kids, and a curriculum which only represents a white history, and so kids can grow up and get the idea of white racial superiority. Then, internal racism can happen where kids start to think blonde, hair, blue eyes, and light skin is the way they should be.
Do you believe this begins in school?
I think it can start even earlier because my daughter…I tried to keep her away from Barbie, but she watches a lot of Barbie and she wants blonde hair now after watching Barbie. We hadn’t really talked about language issues with her, and the first baby-sitter we had here, the baby-sitter was really good with her, but any time Lupita said something she did not understand she thought she was speaking Spanish. And, that’s when Lupita realized that Daddy speaks Spanish, at the age of three, and she got to where she thought that if she just made up sounds, she is speaking Spanish. This really bothered me because I just feel like she was starting to see her dad as different and she struggles because her skin is lighter, more like mine, so she struggles with trying to figure out whether she’s like daddy or like mommy, and what that means. She’ll say she’s white, and we’ll say, well, no, you’re not white. It’s just that kids at a very young age are trying to figure out who they are.
How old are they?
She is four and Diego is six months old.
Having bi-racial children, I know that you are not Hispanic, but are there any Hispanic customs, traditions, or values, and the language that you and your husband want them to have?
One thing that is very important for us is that they speak Spanish because my husband’s parents only speak Spanish, and he has many relatives in Mexico who only speak Spanish. So, if they don’t learn to speak Spanish, they won’t be able to communicate with relatives. My husband and I have talked about this some, but what I have seen among Mexican families that we know is that the older children are very good at taking care of the younger children and good with children in general. And being responsible at a young age, and it’s a very healthy thing that I have seen. I really want to nurture that in our daughter, but it’s hard when you’re not a part of that culture, and a lot of that just happens naturally in the family. Another thing is that in the Mexican culture, the children are expected to eventually take care of their parents and are very respectful of their elders and I want to encourage that. I want them…kids who end p bi-racial, or say Mexican youth born in the U.S. tend to end up much healthier if they are able to function in both cultures effortlessly whether it’s being bilingual and being able to switch language very easily and being able to understand what’s valued in different cultures, within mainstream American culture and Mexican culture and what’s appropriate. I would love for our children to be able to do that, but right now, we’re not very close with José’s family, and they’re not getting exposure to a lot of other Latinos, so it’s going to be very difficult for them to do that.
Are there any programs or activities where you can take your children to get them involved in a more Latino-based peer group?
No,…but a lot of Latino kids end up going to the Sarah E. Raymond school because they provide preschool ESL programs. So, we had people saying “you need to get your daughter in,” and when we tried, it had to be ESL or at-risk, so our daughter didn’t qualify. There are no bilingual preschools or schools in the area, Spanish/English at all. So, it’s been really difficult, but the bilingual ed program at ISU had a special program, so we took our daughter and Diego to that, but it’s really difficult to find things.
How is their Spanish as of right now?
It’s not very good; our daughter speaks and understands some, but she’s already been multiple situations where she has been expected to speak Spanish, but she couldn’t so it makes her really uncomfortable, she’s even said that she doesn’t want to speak Spanish, and that she wants to speak English. So, it’s been hard on her, and I worry about that a lot.
Are there any specific incidents where she has come home from school or an activity and has questioned who/what she is?
No, she went to Blooming Grove Academy this past year, and we purposely chose that school because it’s racially diverse and her teacher did a lot of stuff talking about different skin color. That was really good for her because the teacher talked about how daddy had brown skin and how mommy had a lighter shade of brown. The teacher talked about how we all really have brown skin, but just different shades of brown and that was really good for her. The teacher just made it all seem really natural, and that it’s a beautiful thing that we’re all these different colors, so that was a positive experiences. I think the only negative thing is that the home daycare where all the kids were white and the lady was white and whenever Lupita said something she didn’t understand, she would say, Oh, Lupita is speaking Spanish” and I think that was rally unhealthy for her.
So you think that is a trend for all Latinos in the area?
I think it depends on class, how you’re dressed, how “Mexican” you look, and José is shorter than I am, and has dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin, and doesn’t like to dress very much, so it’s going to be more likely to happen to a person like that, and especially to a person who does not speak English. There aren’t many bilingual services offered here, even at the hospital from what I hear, is that there aren’t interpreters and children are translating for their parents, and in an emergency situation, that’s really dangerous. I’ve heard nurses in my classes say we need interpreters because sometimes they have to call on a telephone and do translation over the telephone.
Which is not very efficient for saving someone’s life.
Well, you have done a great job answering the questions I’ve had for you, and I would just like to say thank you again for taking the time to interview with me.
You’re welcome and good luck with the project.