Contribution – Day 29

#1, to my firm.  Okay, this time it was something I’m not paid to do.  I brought several folks to our holiday party, which is a contribution to my boss because he wants the party to be a networking opportunity for the firm (and, by default, for the people who attend).

Last year’s holiday party I was very wary of.  I had just starting working there, so it was an unknown quantity.  I reluctantly gave my boss a list of people to invite.  When they actually RSVP’d that they were coming, I had a minor panic attack.

But then the day arrived, and we had, like, a really good time.  I couldn’t pinpoint why.  How could a networking-type party given by a law firm, and full of people who didn’t know each other, be that enjoyable?  But my friends who came kept bringing up how fun it was — throughout the year.  I mean there were free food and drinks, sure, but, it was at a standard location (a nicer Chinese restaurant — nothing special).  There was no special entertainment, nothing to make it stand out from any other stuffy work party experience.  I was convinced it was a fluke.

So, this year, I was again apprehensive, if a bit less so — the return attendees had an idea of what it would be like, after all, and for others, well, last year had gone well.  Even if last year was a fluke, surely this year couldn’t be THAT bad.

So how did it go?

Really well.  We had a really great time.  I was, again, perplexed.  So I was forced to come to terms with some (positive) things.  The cynic in me was not happy.

–My firm is actually cool and fun (whaaaaat?).  Jimmy did not go last year.  He had no idea what to expect, and he was meeting my boss and co-workers for the first time.  When I talked to him afterward, I was pretty curious about what his impression was.  He’s not a lawyer, after all, so he has no idea about any of our cultural norms.  He told me he had a really nice time, and he felt as if it was due in large part to who we are, as a firm. We actually created that energy — we made everyone there feel comfortable and welcome.  It didn’t seem stuffy at all.  People were freely conversing on a variety of topics, and openly mingling with strangers without hesitation.  We had sourced a welcoming, fun place, and by “we” I mean my firm.  My co-workers, my boss and me (whaaaaat?).  I’m still processing this.

–To be a good networker, I get to just be myself (whaaaaat?).  Jimmy and I made a meaningful connection with a couple, clients of my firm, who work in education.  These clients are not MY personal clients, but clients of a new lawyer we recently hired.  They talked to Jimmy a while about the work he does, and he ended up making a valuable business contact.  As for me, well, turns out they were both Latin (a husband and wife), and the husband was Mexican-American.  When I told them where I was from (El Paso, TX), they immediately knew I was Mexican, too.  They then said they felt so much better about their attorney (our new guy) moving to our firm — because if one of the (few) attorneys at our firm was a powerful, educated Mexican woman, that told them everything they needed to know.

This, too, blew my mind a little.  I don’t spend much time thinking of myself as Mexican-American, and yet, I am.  I am as Mexican as I am white.  But, it’s such a complicated history for me — where I grew up, being Mexican was not a good thing.  El Paso is 80% Mexican, so that doesn’t make sense, right, but yet that’s the mentality.  Cuidad Juarez is right across the Rio Grande — we’re not talking 40-50 miles away, like San Diego and Tijuana,  we’re talking NO separation between the two at all except the river (which, down there, is not wide or raging at all — it’s a trickle, albeit with a very nasty undercurrent).  Anyway, growing up, we could see Juarez across the river (again, it’s that close) — and when you look over, the part of Juarez you see is the poorest part.  We’re talking shacks made out of wood and metal, because that’s where the workers in the American factories just over the border live–in make-shift shanty towns.  I grew up believing that “Mexican” was synonymous with “ignorant,” “poor,” and “going nowhere.”  My mother grew up with the same mentality, despite being 100% Mexican herself (it was passed down to her from her parents).  She learned Spanish not from her parents, but later in life, for a job she took as a secretary (her parents did not teach her Spanish because her much older brothers, who learned Spanish before English, had failed out of school).

My mom did not teach us Spanish growing up and we did not want to learn it (why would we?).  Again, this is very complex and it would take me forever to explain it on here — but suffice it to say that I had no desire to be Mexican growing up.  When I got to high school, I dyed my hair blonde and I wore blue contact lenses.  I wanted to be white.  I wanted to be like the smart, popular, beautiful blue-eyed blonde-haired girls.  I wanted to hide my Mexican side, have it be my dirty little secret.  At the same time, El Paso is, again 80% Mexican.  That means there were several instances when being “white” meant you were left out.  I went to a Spanish-speaking pre-school, for example.  I would cry because I couldn’t understand anything, and the other kids wouldn’t play with me.  In high school, in classes where sometimes over 90% of the students spoke Spanish as their first language, I again felt left out — the kids would speak Spanish to each other between lessons and I couldn’t join in or make friends.  And, I felt rejected by other Hispanics in any event.  I was too white to be Mexican (and I didn’t know Spanish).  They’d make fun of me for even attempting to claim “Mexican” as my ethnicity — and that happens still today.  For example, I’ve had many a white man scornfully tell me I didn’t deserve to go to UVA Law (a top 10 law school), and I certainly didn’t deserve to check the “minority” box (which, according to them, was clearly the only reason I was accepted).  Those comments don’t affect me with regard to my intellect — I know I’m smart, and I’ve got the LSAT score to “prove it” (if LSAT scores prove anything, which they don’t, but when one man kept pressuring me to tell him what it was, so he could be right about the point he was trying to make, I told him — and he shut up fast).  They DO bother me, though, with regard to my ethnicity.  I am Mexican.  It’s a fact.  But, I have to defend it?  I have to deal with folks smirking at me when I say I am a minority?  It’s really irritating.

This is not something I talk about often — my struggles of being a “mix” mostly fall on deaf ears.  The white people look at me perplexed — they think of me as white and don’t understand what possible “struggle” I could be referring to.  The same is true of fellow Mexican-Americans.  The only time I have an empathetic ear is when I’m talking to another “mix,” like me.  Those conversations are rare, but I welcome them when they occur.

All of this to say, I was really sort of gratified and happy that this couple affirmatively said I was Mexican-American, without question, just like them.  Yes, I am.

The rejection of myself as Mexican ended a long time ago, due in part to my mother’s own 180 degree turn around (resulting in her marriage to my step-father, a loving, funny, and wonderful Mexican man from Juarez).  I am really, really proud of my ethnicity, and of the incredible border town that I am from.  And I get to be that.    And you know what?  My child, who will only be 25% Mexican, gets to be that, too.  This isn’t a math problem — there aren’t any pie charts, nor is there a “majority” rule.  We are who we are.

–I have arrived at a place in my life where I am attracting great people.  From the couple we talked to, to my boss and co-workers, to my friends who were there — I couldn’t stop thinking about how everyone around me was a great person to know.

–Jimmy made the right choice, quitting his job.  He showed up different.  He was totally confident, energetic, animated.  He smiled a lot.  I felt like a “power couple” (I just rolled my eyes at typing that but I can’t think of another way to say it).

Okay I’ll stop there.  You get it, though.  It came together in a great way.

#2, to Jim.  Nothing in particular, but we had a great night together.  He instituted a practice where we’ll talk once a day during the day, as a short support call.  So we did that for the first time yesterday.  And then he got a lot out of the evening.  But, in terms of my contribution to him, it was mainly just being present, animated, energetic.  Like he was being.  After the party, it felt good to be together, just the two of us.  It’s amazing how special and intoxicating the intimacy between us feels when, just before, we were being open and connecting with several others (weird, huh?).

#3, to me.  I’ve been making my own lunch.  Grilled chicken and salad the last couple of days.  Kyla of 2-3 years ago would be, like, SO impressed with this.  If you told her that her future self would at some point be doing this, she’d be like, whoa.  So I DO end up getting my shit together.  Awesome.

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