This post is part of a series of interviews with families like ours, who are ‘mixed’ and Latino. Read more interviews here: MixedFam Q&A
#MixedVida Bio & Interview
Ana María Gómez and her husband, Richard, have two boys and her lovely step-daughter. She was born in Lafayette, Louisiana and raised in Venezuela. Ana graduated from Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas, Venezuela and received her master’s in law from Hamline University and her Juris Doctor from William Mitchell College of Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She practices civil and immigration law as an Attorney and Co-Owner of Perez & Gomez Law, LLC. in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
What is your individual, family and/or relationship mix? (Culture, ethnicity, language, religion, etc.).
I was born in New Orleans and raised in Venezuela. My parents are Venezuelan and they have different ethnicities in their bloodstream. We have different religions in our families as well. We usually do not impose any because we believe it is a personal choice. I do not practice any religion with my husband and children. We believe in teaching them tolerance, respect, kindness and love for themselves and all.
How have the communities that you’ve lived in, impacted your personal and family identities?
I grew up in blue-collar neighborhoods most of my life. When I lived in Venezuela, the sense of community was very strong. I still know and keep contact with neighbors and friends. This sense of community impacted me strongly because I grew up helping anybody around me and receiving support from them too. I never felt I was bothering anyone in Venezuela. If anyone was sick or were facing any problem, everybody would offer their help or resources to help overcome any difficulties.
Sometimes, remembering those moments makes me sad and a little bit depressed because we do not have the same community structure where we live in Minnesota. My neighbors are respectful, but I barely know them. I try hard to get to know them, but most of the time I do not feel welcome or that they try even a bit to get to know our family. We have a lot kids on my street that are my children’s ages but they do not even play together. You barely see them outside. It is totally the opposite I grew up with. I played with my neighbors for hours. We discovered tolerance and respect through playing and support.
What attracted you to your spouse? What are some things that you share in common?
My husband Richard was born in Minnesota. His family has Norwegian roots. Many things attracted me to him. He is respectful, tolerant, loving, hardworking and kind (among many other strengths). I have never heard a negative word about someone come out of his mouth. He is always there for our children and goes beyond his power to show us his love and dedication. He has taken the time to learn more about my family and culture, especially to respect and understand how close we are and how we depend on each other. I was also attracted to the respectful manner he treats his parents and how sweet he is to his sister with special needs. Human beings cannot fake kindness. I can see in his eyes how pure and kind his expressions of love are for all of them.
Richard is always available to lend a hand to anyone who needs him, especially his friends and family. We share the love for our family, the desire to build a strong and diverse family for our children. We also believe that we need to raise kind, respectful and universal children so they can leave strong footprints wherever they go in life.
How do you combine your family traditions/cultural values and coordinate extended family events, holidays and outings?
It is not an easy task at home, especially because my side of the family does not live close to us. Thus, it falls on me to keep my culture alive for them. I try to cook as many meals from home as possible. We go to festivities or fairs where they can experience it. Sadly, we do not have a very strong or close Venezuelan community in Minnesota for my children to experience that side of our cultural background. I take them to as many multicultural events as possible so they can learn about others’ lives and customs. Most of the time, they realize we have more similarities than differences.
Most holidays, my husband’s customs seems to overpower mine due to the lack of family from my side in Minnesota. I have made a conscious plan to start including more food from my culture during holidays to see if that helps to start shaping our children’s cultural future.
I wish I could take my children to visit my family more often but financially it is difficult to accomplish. I am lucky that my mother and aunt try to come as much as they can to share their love to our children. The rest of my family keep contact with us via Skype, letters, sending love packages with goodies and items from Venezuela for our enjoyment.
Are your in-laws understanding of your relationship? If not, how do you manage those difficulties?
My in-laws have been a gift from life. I could not ask for more. They are very understanding, respectful and supportive of our relationship. They listen to me when I communicate how difficult is to be away from my family. They always offer their hands to help us with our children and struggles. They are very kind to my family when they visit us; especially making them feel welcome in their house.
What are some misconceptions about your family and your mixed heritage? How do you confront those misconceptions or make sense of them in your family life?
One of the hardest things for me is to hear “are you their babysitter?” when I am out and about with my children. People have the misconception that a brunette cannot have blonde children or that Latinos share the same “look”. They do not realize that many Latinos are descendants from middle easterners, Europeans, natives, Africans, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, etc.
I have been called the “Mexican” of the block or have been asked by neighbors if I married my husband for “papers” (referring to immigration papers). First, I would love to be Mexican. Mexico is such a beautiful country with lovely people. I would love to be Mexican. However, I know they are using the term disrespectfully. Second, I did not marry my husband for papers. I have had them since the day I was born in Lafayette. We all need to embrace the fact that in the U.S. the word American is not only for a specific racial group. American faces have different colors, ethnicities, backgrounds and cultures that make this country a great nation.
Another hurtful moment is when I am asked more than once if I am an attorney for real (like I enjoy pretending to be one), or if I am the legal assistant or the interpreter. I feel, many people associate being a minority with having a low IQ or not being smart enough to accomplish a career. I always feel like I need to validate more than once who I am to be noticed. They do not realize that education is a very estimated value in our culture. For example, Venezuelan women are part of the economy, politics, and justice system, among other sectors.
It is also sad to handle when people in my culture isolate me because I married an American (like I am not one). They cannot understand that love has no race, color, or culture. We fall in love with the person not only their race or culture. I wish they could see how great and enriching is interacting with diverse cultures. I am blessed when a person can bring new experiences and learning to my life and my family’s.
For those who are in a relationship or family like yours, what would be your best advice for making a bicultural/multicultural family work? What advice would you give to other mixed couples/families?
So far, what has worked for us is to be tolerant, respectful and understanding of each other’s families. I care about my husband’s family as my own and he cares for mine as his own. I look at their strengths and how much they have enriched and brought to my kids’ lives, especially their love and care. I do my own share teaching them about me to avoid unmet expectations and misunderstandings. I tend to be very honest and open about myself because I do not like to make assumptions.
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