Keeping up with our Mexican Culture

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From a Mexican American family view

My husband and I were born in the border city of El Paso, Texas and since our dating days, we understood the importance of keeping our culture and traditions alive within our own family and community. When we decided to start our family, San Antonio without a doubt was going to be our new home. As many Mexican American border families, we come from a beautiful and rich culture that needs to be celebrated, and what a perfect time to connect to our roots than during Hispanic Heritage Month.  

Dante, our son, was born with Down syndrome, and with a prenatal diagnosis, our concerns have shifted through the years as we went from worrying about his developmental delays to simply raising our little boy the best we can. I remember an instance when Dante had an eye doctor appointment when he was 2 years old. The doctor showed him some toys and proceeded to put them away. Dante wanted to keep playing with it and asked for “mas” while signing with his little hands. The doctor did not understand his request, so Dante said “more”. That was probably the first time that I realized we were raising a bilingual young boy who just happens to have Down syndrome. In that moment, Dante amazed me when I understood that he has different languages to communicate with the world.

Family with son with Down syndrome standing in front of Aztec ruins

With time, my husband and I understood that Down syndrome is just part of who Dante is, but not his full identity. Being of Mexican descent, Dante needed to learn about his culture and traditions. He might not understand the whole concept behind some of our traditions, but that has not stopped us from keeping them alive in our home. At times, he might get sensory overload, but he still enjoys Mariachi music, and he is now very used to pochismos or Spanglish at home.

Growing up, my family used to spend Día de Los Muertos visiting the cemetery to honor the lives of our loved ones. Some years we will have an altar at home or write calavera which are short poems that mock an individual while using the dead, La Catrina, with a satirical approach. Now away from my hometown, we wanted to keep this tradition alive which is so fun, visual, and very popular nowadays. You may remember the Coco movie. Since Dante was three years old, he has helped us create our own Altar de Día de Los Muertos at home. We allow him to place the different ofrendas on the altar while teaching him the reason behind each of them. The ofrendas can be marigolds, pictures of our loved ones, pan de muerto, papel picado, etc. In October, we put out not only our Halloween decorations but also our Día de Los Muertos decor including our altar. For a whole month, Dante gets to see his bisabuelas (great grandmothers), abuelito (grandfather), and tios (uncles) that passed before us. He gets the best of both worlds.

Family with young boy with Down syndrome

Since a young age, I had the chance to go on road trips all over Mexico with my family. While learning about our Mexican traditions firsthand, I had the opportunity to taste the most traditional and delicious dishes in Mexico. For years, I wanted to give my son this same opportunity to experience our Mexican culture and traditions. This past summer, we took our son to Mexico City for the first time. Traveling with a 6-year-old boy with Down syndrome has its challenges from safety, transportation, potty training, and overall accessibility. To our surprise, Mexico City, one of the greatest metropolises in the world, was ready for us. Most of the museums and sightseeing locations we visited were accessible for Dante’s stroller as he couldn’t walk long distances yet. He loved eating tacos from the street stands better known as fonditas. At Teotihuacan, he even tried chapulines for the first time which were very crunchy and leggy.

Young boy with Down syndrome chopping vegetables

Mexican food is a staple of many Mexican American families and one of the easiest ways to maintain our roots with our traditions. At home, I’ve invited him to participate in the process of cooking. As with some of the dishes that I grew up with, Dante has learned that spices are important and to put just sal al gusto with the sazón (salt to your taste preference with the seasoning). He loves to smash the guacamole or dice bell peppers to help mom make chicken fajitas for lunch. His taste buds are very developed nowadays so he might even steal some raw onion while I’m preparing some pico de gallo. From a very young age, he got used to spicy candy and, just like mom, will devour tamarindo candy even if a tear travels down his little cheek because it’s spicy but addictingly delicious.

El 15 de Septiembre marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month and, with it, Fiestas Patrias to commemorate the celebration of Mexico Independence Day. This is a great opportunity to get closer to our Mexican and Hispanic roots and traditions. We loved opening that door for Dante, and we will continue to give him experiences to connect with where his family came from. It is important to us and important to all those who came before us to keep our culture alive!

Lizzeth Saldaña

I hold a bachelor’s degree in architecture from UTSA and master’s degree in project management. I have worked for over a decade in the construction industry. I was born in El Paso but spent my childhood in Ciudad Juarez before moving to San Antonio to pursue my undergraduate degree. I moved to Albuquerque for 6 years before deciding to grow our family and move back to San Antonio. Since I learned of my son's diagnosis while pregnant, I have made changes to my career path. I've been working with Yates Construction for last three years. More recently, I shifted to preconstruction as an estimator. During my free time, I love to travel and simply spend time with my family.
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