Should I Check “White, Not Hispanic or Latino”?

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As I was updating my paperwork for the dentist recently, I had to decide whether or not I felt like technically lying.

It’s always something I hesitate on, more than I probably should.

My grandmother is full Mexican. I’m therefore only a quarter Mexican.

So I’m white; but 25% of my genes, and I suppose to some degree, my heritage and culture, is Mexican.

But if I could honestly describe myself to the Census Bureau, which apparently is the organization that most cares about my cultural and ethnic identity, it would simply be this:

Mostly white.

I’m not 100% white, so to proclaim, “white, not Hispanic or Latino” is inaccurate; because I’m absolutely part Hispanic.

The first time I remember having to answer that question was in 1st grade, for a standardized test. I remember how my mom, who is half Mexican and half Italian, told me that she always questioned that herself when she had to answer that question as well.

I think it muddies the waters even more than Italians typically are “more ethnic looking” than most Europeans. I have always thought the same thing about Jews (who are actually considered Middle Eastern) and Greeks (who, like Italians, are Mediterranean).

“White” is a funny term to me, when it references people.

I would love to take one of those ethnic DNA tests where they draw some of your blood and tell you exactly what percentage you are of each people group.

Mainly just because it would be fun to know… exactly. But really, none of that really matters.

What I learned in my HR training course is that ultimately, a person can claim whatever race they most identify with, even if it’s simply cultural.

If you are Chinese but adopted by white parents, you can identify as “white” if you choose to; or Chinese. It’s up to the individual.

As for me, I’m mostly white, based on the last names in my family tree: German (“Shell”), Italian (“Metallo”), Dutch (“Clowers”, derived from “Klaar”), Scottish (“Johnston” and “King”), and English (“Taylor” and “Wiseman”).

And of course I’m also Mexican (“Mendez”). That’s a little confusing as well because ethnically, Mexicans are a mixed race called Mestizos: ultimately, they are around half European (largely including Spanish) and around half Native (or indigenous) Mexican; just like how the United States originally was occupied by Native Americans before the Europeans came over.

The natives in modern Mexico and United States actually derived from Asia, like the Eskimos who settled in Russia and Alaska.

So technically, I’ve got distant traces of Asian blood.

If you really dumb it down, I’m just European and barely Asian.

But there’s not a category for that on the paperwork.

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Is Life in Black and White or in Color? Is It Real or Just a Dream? What was Before and What is Beyond the Vanilla Sky?

At point does “real” become imaginary?  Or does “real” never become imaginary, but instead, is “real” sometimes unseen and not yet understood?

What initially begins as blue skies which we can literally see above us does eventually become the dark, black, mysterious outer space where we assume God and the angels are.  And maybe even aliens and time traveling holes in the universe. While the past simply begins at one second ago, which we all can verify quite easily, if we continue going back in time, we eventually find ourselves in stitched-together memories of high school and even childhood.  Keep going, and we were not even born yet.  Travel further back in time, and we would see Abraham Lincoln, whom we all agree was a real person.  Go still further back to the life of Jesus, whom some proclaim is the Son of God, some proclaim was simply a great teacher, and some proclaim was never actually a real person. Go back to the days of Abraham, the earthly father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Finally, we get to Adam and Eve and before that, the beginning of the Earth and the Universe.  But at what point in reverse time do you stop believing in reality?  At what point does it become hard to believe?

What started out as simple look around us ended up becoming one strange trip. It’s easy to recognize what exists right before us in our own time and space.  But very quickly as we extend the frame of perception, we have to admit we can not literally prove anything.  Faith is unavoidable, for every single person alive today and every single person who has died in the history of the world.

While I am definitely a self-proclaimed black and white kind of guy, as I love things to be simply laid out before me in a practical way I can follow and understand them, I am just as equally an abstract, neon colors kind of guy as well. I am a cross-breed.  I am a hybrid.  And I believe that life is as well.

We can not separate the mostly relatable first episode of the TV show LOST from its spiritual, heavenly series finale.  Our existence is both real and a dream.  It is both tangible and invisible.  It is both reality and a fairy tale.  Until we reach the limits of outer space, and until we travel completely back and forwards in time, life is something we can not truly begin to figure out or understand in the smallest degree.

Life is both black and white and color.  Life is both real and a dream.

The Hipness of Jesus Christ: Why the God of Christianity is Cool in Modern Culture

Jesus is not my “homeboy”, but He is pretty cool.

It seems that while growing up in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, the name of Jesus wasn’t really common (or acceptable) in mainstream entertainment.  Maybe it’s the fact that we as a nation are more aware now of the infiltration of different religions such as Islam in recent years, so we’re becoming more outspoken about Jesus than we used to be.  Because if we still are indeed a “Christian nation”, it’s Jesus we would need to be down with.

I do believe that the name of Jesus will always be offensive in the sense that He is the main factor that separates Christians (Protestants, Catholics, Messianic Jews, etc.) from other religions, including Judaism, as well as distinguishing those who simply “believe in God or a higher power” (theists).  However, I believe we are at a point in history and culture where “Jesus awareness” is at an all time high.

From Carrie Underwood’s 2005 number one hit, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, to Kanye West’s 2004 hit “Jesus Walks”, which only peaked at #11, but saw great commercial and critical success, to Mel Gibson’s (yes, he has gone crazy since then) 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ, which become the 8th highest grossing movie of all time (at the time), the highest grossing R-rated movie ever, and the highest grossing non-English movie ever, America continues to prove that even in our desired choices of entertainment, Jesus is in demand.

Whether or not the average American truly believes and trusts that Jesus is the Son of God, it’s safe to say that the average American has at least a basic understanding that Jesus was put to death on a cross to redeem the sins of mankind, past and present.  And that He came back to life three days later.  And that during his lifetime, He performed all kinds of miracles, like walking on water, healing blind men, speaking dead people into existence, and feeding thousands of people from just a couple fish and loaves of bread.  Whether or not the average American believes all this to literally be true, they at least are familiar with these basic concepts.

Even if to the average skeptic, Jesus is nothing more than a respectable movie character played by forgettable non-Jewish actors with blue eyes, this black sheep of the Jews ultimately puts us all in a position to whether we have to either recognize Him as the savior of mankind, or dismiss Him as either a good intention or completely irrelevant to life.  Either Jesus is who He said He is (God), or He’s not.  Either we associate Him with the meaning of life and the afterlife, or we don’t.  And especially in modern America, we have so been made aware of who He is at this point; it’s just a matter of what we do with that knowledge.

I’ve thought about it, and honestly, even apart from the fact I truly believe Christianity is the answer to all our “meaning of life questions”, and that out of all the religions, it’s Christianity that is the “right one” for me (because let’s face it, out of all the religions in the world, only one can be right in the end when we die, so it’s important to pick one and stick with it while we’re still alive), apart from all that, even if I wasn’t a Christian, I still would vote Jesus as the “coolest god”.

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (not a man) and a virgin.  Right off, that’s so scientifically impossible.  So I like it.  He never sinned; which is spiritually impossible.  I like that too.  His first miracle was turning water into wine at a really nice wedding. Cool.  He instantly stopped a really bad storm out at sea by saying, “peace, be still”.  The fact that Jesus went against the rules of nature is a major selling point for me.

Jesus came in the form of a Jewish man, who pretty much was a hippie type, who rebelled against the established religious culture of His day, challenging them to show their love for God to be authentic by taking care of the poor, the widowed, the unloved, and the sinners.

And based on the unproportionally high number of popular American Jewish actors and writers who we make rich in the name of entertainment, and based on the fact that just as many Jews who actually live in Israel who live in America (both Israel and America each contain about 40% of the world’s Jewish population), I’d say we Americans are known for embracing the Jews, whereas so many nations throughout history have rejected (understatement) them instead.

According to Christian belief, Jesus Christ is coming back to Earth to set up His millennial kingdom, in which all of us who believed in Him get to be a part of.  The way I see it, Jesus is not only the real deal; He just happens to be pretty cool too. But at the end of the day (and our lives), we will have made it clear through our words and actions just how relevant Jesus is to us personally.  And no matter how hip or popular (or uncool or unpopular) He may seem, we still choose in this life how important He is to us, for eternity.

“1985 I missed a plane, which then disappeared, never seen again.  You came to me Jesus, stood right in my way. You flew down from Heaven to save me again. Hallelujah, hallelujah.” -excerpt from “Stay with Me, Jesus” by Guster


Unnecessary Bonus…

Classic Books that Americans Love which were Written by Jewish Authors:




Escape (The Pina Colada Song) from a Logical Perspective, Finally

It’s time to literally think through the lyrics of the Rupert Holmes’ 1979-1980 hit, “Escape”.  A song that many of us thought was called “If You Like Pina Coladas” and was performed by Jimmy Buffett.

Many people in the history of modern civilization have claimed there are two kinds of people in the world. But through much research and toil on my part, I have learned truly what the defining line of what these two kinds are. An overwhelming number believe it is whether or not you like Pina Coladas. Those people are not looking at the big picture. They are only looking at the “here and now”, what is sweet, and smooth, and relaxing- exotic, even.

There are also those believe it is whether or not you like getting caught in the rain. They are able to go through the rest of the day with wet socks and not be bothered by it. Those are the free spirited who are always able to take moldy lemons and make fresh lemonade. That is a good thing, but is it consistent?

Then are those who believe it all comes down whether or not you are into yoga. It’s just that it seems a little judgmental “to put someone in a box” because they may or may not be into a trendy form of mental, physical, and spiritual exercise. I think it’s a given that some people are just better cut out for Pilates or Tai-Bo.

Rupert Holmes

Perhaps the most controversial outlook is the one that says it depends on whether or not you have half a brain. I would have to think that anyone who can read this has a half a brain. But is that the true question? Most scientists say we only use 10% of our brain. And that even geniuses only use 20%. So is it a matter of how much a brain you have, or how much of it that you use? It seems if you have half a brain but use 100% of it, then you’re much better off them someone who has a whole brain and uses 10%. The whole “half a brain/whole brain” is simply a theory with too many holes in it.

So what is the answer? There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who like making love at midnight in the dunes of the cape, and those who do not. No questions asked. I mean, you’ve seen Napoleon Dynamite and you think of the scene where his grandma goes four-wheeling in the dunes of Idaho and breaks her coccyx. But those dunes are nowhere near a cape. Nevermind that you don’t exactly know what a cape is. It obviously has something to do when some sort of a peninsula type of land mass. It’s always near an ocean.

Except for Cape Girardeau, Missouri. It’s on the border of Illinois and the Mississippi River. Nevermind that not only do you have to find a dune, that happens to be near a cape, but that it also has to be at midnight. You have to get past that.

Come to terms with whether or not you’ve made love so many times at midnight in the dunes of the cape that now you can officially say you like to do that. An even bigger question arises with Cape San Blas, FL, which is located directly on the Central Time/Eastern Time border. Depending on exactly which side of the time zone you are on, it could be either 11:00 PM, 12:00 AM, or 1:00 AM. And what if one lover is on the Eastern Time Zone side but the other is on Central, then you’ve really got a problem.

Just don’t think about how dangerous it could possibly be to be in a vulnerable position outside at night in some sort of cave near sand. Don’t think about wild coyotes, jellyfish, or pirates. If and when you do figure that out, then and only then, you’ll know which kind of person you are.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_(Rupert_Holmes_song)

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on pina coladas, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

 

Good Men Still Exist; They Just Don’t Make the Headlines as Easily

“The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard has been set so pitifully low.” -Michael Chabon, Manhood for Amateurs

Yes, everyone is well aware that despite all the good men in history who have left a good name for themselves (along with plenty of quotable quotes, with many of them being strong military leaders or respected writers), there are enough deadbeats, scoundrels, and cads to cast a negative connotation on the word “man”.  Women are expected to be saints and givers; sadly, men are expected to be… well, not a lot is expected of men anymore.  But not all good men are long gone.

In the aftermath of Father’s Day last week, the Internet was full of freshly published articles about the modern man, father, and husband.  Two in particular really got my attention.  The first one reviewed the history of TV dads from Leave It to Beaver, to Married with Children, to Parenthood.  It brought out the fact that in the 1950’s, dads were too perfect, in the 1990’s they were often portrayed as bumbling idiots, and now in the 2010’s, TV dads have finally began to look more like real dads.  See http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/37758834/ns/today-entertainment/.  (Though I would argue that the 1980’s were good to TV dads…)

The other article that really got me thinking was one I found on Stuff Christians Like, http://stuffchristianslike.net/2010/06/the-wild-difference-between-a-mothers-day-sermon-and-a-fathers-day-sermon/, which explained how many fathers in Christian churches feel miserable on Father’s Day Sunday because the sermon is about how men need to step up to the plate and be better fathers, while the Mother’s Day sermon provides nothing but praise for women. 

I definitely see how good men often don’t get the praise they deserve.  Like Zack Morris once said on Saved by the Bell when Jessie declared that all men are jerks, “Hey, don’t judge us by our worst specimens.”  What can we do to enhance the minority of men who are truly good fathers, husbands, and hard-working citizens?

My guess is to call them out on their goodness when you see it.  It seems that if we as a culture began to celebrate the men who are doing right, it would be more of an incentive for those who are just half-way doing it, seeing there is praise and appreciation for being a “good man”.  But when the goal is simply to be better than Charlie Sheen (both the actual person and his fictionalized character on the totally lame yet successful sitcom Three and Half Men), there’s a certain lack of motivation to become a better man. 

In an age where stereotypes of men who are drug to church by their wives end up jumping in a 15 passenger van for a weekend trip to their nearest major sports arena to learn from a former NFL player at a Promise Keepers conference that they should spend more time with their kids instead of watching sports games and that they should share the household responsibilities with their wives and stop looking at pornography on their home computers, then they go back home a changed man for a month, then repeat the process each following year, there are still plenty of men in America who actually already are indulging themselves in being the husbands and fathers they need to be.  There are actually good men in America who don’t have to be reminded to be good.  Because they are already aware of the reward in being a respected man who lives for his family, not himself.

Celebrate the good men in your life.  They may instantly brush aside your compliments or seem embarrassed when you do, but inside it means the world to them.  Of course with good men being the coveted gem in a parking lot full of gravels, my guess is, you already do.

Adventures in Thailand: Man Cave Time Machine

What’s the difference between 1) our memories of actually events and 2) our memories of old dreams?  In theory, not a lot.

The events that have taken place in real life can actually change the course of history and can produce tangible souvenirs such as photographs which can be taken to prove them in the future, whereas the events that occur in a dream do not really have the ability to do those things (though sometimes dreams do predict the future or inspire a person to “be a better person”).

Whether it’s a remembered actual event or a remembered dream, either way, it’s in the past now and it’s just a memory.

If we could take away the two exceptions, that actual events change the course of history and can produce tangible souvenirs whereas dreams don’t, how is a six year-old memory different than a six year-old dream?

In the summer of 2004, my friend Josh and I rode “motorcycles” (they were more like mopeds) 40 miles outside of the mountain city of Chiang Mai in Thailand, in order to find an ancient cave where few tourists ever bothered to visit.  There were no signs in English once we got there.  No English-speaking guides.  All we knew it that it cost non-Thai people $4 to go into the cave and another dollar for a lantern to actually see around inside the place.

As we got to the back of the cave, our guide pointed behind him to what appeared to be a bottomless pit.  I picked up a rock on the cave floor and tossed it into the abyss and finally after about ten seconds, I faintly heard it hit the bottom.  I immediately imagined that centuries ago, prisoners were thrown down to the bottom only to be met by hungry lions.

There’s no doubt, Josh and I are some of the few American people to have visited the forsaken Chiang Dao Cave in Thailand.  Let’s assume that I don’t embed pictures of that event into this post and that nothing happened that day that changed the course of history (and it in deed, didn’t).

In theory, the events I told about in that Thai cave memory only actually happened because I said they did, a theory that I brought to life in Snail Trails.  Especially if Josh forgot about us going to that cave.  No souvenirs.  No life-changing actions.

So what if I only dreamed that event happened?  What if while I stayed in Chiang Mai I only drove by the signs for Chiang Dao Cave, but never took the time to visit it?  What if all I did was just dream that Josh and I actually went there?

How would that dream be any different than it really happening?

For another related post, here’s The Interstate to Memory Lane

my roommate Josh from Liberty University

the 2004 version of me either trapped in the actual Chiang Dao Cave or in a dream

Manspeak, Volume 11: Responsibility

People tend to accept that there is a difference between what is normal in the movies and what is normal in reality, and for the most part we know not to confuse the two. In the world of Hollywood, a 39 year-old playboy bachelor who is “too free-spirited” to get married simply lives for himself in his classic arcade-filled apartment. And he is cool. He is Owen Wilson. Adam Sandler. Vince Vaughn. But in reality, this guy is not cool at all. He’s a guy who needs to grow up.

Because here in reality, we equate responsibility with manhood.

There is of course a false, glamorized idea that a man is defined by his freedom; a lifestyle where he needs to answer to no one. In this unspoken concept the ultimate goal in a man’s life is to win the lottery and never have to change diapers.

But this man is not the kind we truly respect. Instead, we admire a man who while he is still young, gives up his freedom to be become responsible to another human being in marriage. And then of course, within the next few years he is expected to become a father. And an involved father, at that. Responsibility is what helps a man to be normal and have a purpose.

A funny and true proverb I heard a lot in college was this: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” On the same token, men without real responsibilities are rarely respected. So much of life is showing up and participating. And in order to do that, a man must actively become involved in other people’s lives. The closer I get to age 30, the further away I am from being able to relate to what it’s like to be a child, and therefore the more aware I am that I once was an annoying kid.

I think back to all the hours my dad patiently listened to me tell him all the Ninja Turtle trivia I knew. And the way he made sure I had the coolest project in science and social studies class each time. And since he knew I didn’t like sports, he became the leader of a Cub Scouts group to inspire me to be involved in an extracurricular activity I actually enjoyed- being an adventurous boy with my friends. I couldn’t have really known it back then, but his sincere involvement in my life has everything to do with who I have become as an adult.

It’s amazing how much one man’s involvement makes or breaks his child’s life. I was blessed and still am. I still need my dad. I still learn from him.

And now I’m not all that far from being in the position he was in the early 1980’s. I will become the man looking into the googly eyes of a helpless baby, both of us completely clueless. But that’s the way God planned it. No instruction booklet on how to be a parent. Instead, it all comes down to the humility of a man who makes a conscience effort to be responsible.

“My dad’s been dead for more than 20 years. I still want him to be proud of me.” –Dave Matthews, taken from the linear notes from his solo Some Devil album

wild things 2

Manspeak Table of Contents:

Volume 1: Humor http://wp.me/pxqBU-1i
Volume 2: Heroism http://wp.me/pxqBU-1m
Volume 3: Filtration http://wp.me/pxqBU-1p
Volume 4: Stance http://wp.me/pxqBU-1s
Volume 5: Movement http://wp.me/pxqBU-1v
Volume 6: Law http://wp.me/pxqBU-3h
Volume 7: Bromance http://wp.me/pxqBU-3W
Volume 8: Relaxation http://wp.me/pxqBU-6a
Volume 9: Appearance http://wp.me/pxqBU-6f
Volume 10: Exploration http://wp.me/pxqBU-6O
Volume 11: Responsibility http://wp.me/pxqBU-8v