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Race/Ethnicity Questions 431-440

THE QUESTION:
R440: Many times when I am watching television, I notice that a good number of African-American females’ names begin with “La,” such as Latonya or Latoya. Is there something in family heritage that accounts for using that prefix?
POSTED SEPT. 1, 1998
Matt D., 15, white <bluefan@hotmail.com>, Novi, MI
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THE QUESTION:
R439: I’ve noticed that many of the Hispanic mothers/nannies at our local playgrounds address their children as “mama,” as in “Come here and drink your juice, mama.” It’s used as a term of endearment, the way I might say “sweetie” or “honey.” But doesn’t “mama” mean “mother” in Spanish, as it does in English? If so, it seems a strange thing to call a child. I’m curious if the word has a special cultural significance. Or, am I just misunderstanding what they’re saying, and it’s a word that sounds like “mama” but isn’t?
POSTED AUG. 31, 1998
Cynthia, 37, white mother of two preschoolers, Pasadena , CA

ANSWER 1:
You’re right. You have indeed heard mothers call their little girls “mama” and, if you listen closely, their little boys “papa.” It’s nothing more than a term of endearment. There are a number of variations: “mami” and “papi” or “mamita” and “papito” (diminutive). They are the same words you might use when addressing your parents, but they are interchangeably used for children (or spouses!) with great affection.
POSTED SEPT. 21, 1998
N., 33, Cuban-American female, Miami, FL

FURTHER NOTICE:
My father used to call me “mamas” when I was younger. I used to wonder why he would call me this if I were not his mother. Now I call my own daughter “mamas” as a term of endearment. I believe it is a term passed on to generations.
POSTED OCT. 6, 1998
Juliet M. 25, Hispanic female <marxarchive@hotmail.com>, San Antonio, TX
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THE QUESTION:
R438: Why is it that many Indian people, both men and women, prefer to dress in the clothing of their traditional, historical culture? For example, Indian men seem to prefer not to have a necktie on when dressed, and Indian women prefer to dress in many forms of Sari, which are very beautiful. Is there a hidden meaning for that?
POSTED AUG. 31, 1998
Sue, Bangkok, Thailand

ANSWER 1:
I’m white but asked this same question of an Indonesian friend. She responded: “In my country this is the way everyone dressed. In your country you have blue jeans, mini-dresse, etc. I wear the clothing of my country because it is what I am used to and comfortable in. If you went to my country, wouldn’t you still wear the clothes you wore in your country? Why should I be any different?” I hope this little incident helps you a little.
POSTED SEPT. 10, 1998
Regina W. <reginak@clt-online.com>, Charlotte, NC

FURTHER NOTICE:
I had a wonderful learning experience related to this. I became friendly with a waiter at an Indian restaurant that I frequented. He was a Sikh, and when I expressed interest in his culture, he was very willing to share some fascinating information. On one occasion, I asked what was the significance of the two colors of cloth he used on his head wrap. He replied quite seriously that he chose the colors based on the colors of the shirt slacks he planned to wear that day! I had a good laugh, explaining to him that I had expected some religious or cultural explanation for the choice of colors.
POSTED SEPT. 14, 1998
Darbma, white/Northern European <darbymom@hotmail.com>, New York , NY

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
India has a very old culture, one of the oldest in the world, and Indians are very proud of their heritage. I think it’s the only country in the world where people wear their national costume to work, everyday! Not only that, India has also very highly developed music and dance forms, which precede most of that of the West. Unfortunately,the media in the West chooses only to focus on the poverty of India, and while that is true, is not the only truth. I am an Indian woman living in the United States, and though not a typical Indian (whatever that means) am terribly proud of being so. However, I do not wear Indian clothes to work every day. I would hate to be stared at as though I were an alien, but when in India, or at an Indian wedding, I delight in wearing Indian outfits.
POSTED MARCH 30, 1999
Vinita, Asian Indian, female <vinita@juno.com>, Garden City , NY
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THE QUESTION:
R437a: I’m white and two of my co-workers who are black took me to a restaurant where they were the only blacks there. Later, I asked them if they noticed that type of situation when they go to places, i.e. being the only blacks in the crowd. They told me they don’t usually notice that kind of thing unless it’s brought to their attention by a rude waiter/waitress or clerk. I wonder if this is true among all blacks? When you go into an establishment where there are primarily white people, do you notice this right off or just don’t think about it unless something happens where it’s brought to your attention?
POSTED AUG. 31, 1998
Mary, Asian <maryb@lanminds.com>, Oakland, CA

ANSWER 1:
I don’t think about it because I’m expected to be in the minority and just go with the flow.
POSTED SEPT. 1, 1998
A.A.W., 42, black female <ANABWI@aol.com>, Plantation, FL

FURTHER NOTICE:
My tastes and diverse group of friends typically results in me being the only black person (or one of a few) in the group. I am aware of this when we frequent our haunts, but am completely comfortable. Why? Partly because my mother made an effort to send me to integrated schools and involve us in activities in which we interacted with others who were different from ourselves, and I don’t mean along racial lines only. Additionally, I am constantly seeking and am attracted to the different and exotic. In other words, I consciously choose to experience things that appeal to me, and not just what is familiar or typically associated with my culture. I enjoy classical, jazz, new age music, particularly Celtic and medieval arrangements. I am a vegetarian (no flesh or other animal products). I wear locks (nothing dreadful about my hair). I am a truth-seeker (believer in metaphysics). I write poetry and frequent coffee houses. Though many blacks enjoy these activities or hobbies, my experience/interactions often have been that I am a minority within a minority.
POSTED SEPT. 4, 1998
Zawadi, 33, black female, Detroit, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Most blacks, especially middle class and upper class, grow up with the ability to live in two worlds. We live in a black world, among our own people. But because we live in a predominantly white culture, watching predominantly white TV, reading predominantly white-oriented (mainstream) newspapers, magazines, books, etc., we have grown quite comfortable and at ease in all white envinronments, frequently to the point of not noticing. You cannot truly relax, interact and feel at ease if you always notice, because being the only minority is too often the case. It’s unwise to truly not notice (reminders are sometimes cruel and often dangerous), but that’s another subject for another time.
POSTED SEPT. 4, 1998
Greg R. <IATKOP@AOL.COM>, Atlanta, GA

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I guess everyone is different. I always notice when I am the only African-American/black person in a given situation. You would think this would not be the case given that I am in a profession where blacks are under-represented and the fact that I attended majority white schools. Perhaps this has made the issue more noticeable for me. Although I notice when I’m the only black person, I don’t leave or anything, I just always think to myself, “Where are all the other black people?”
POSTED SEPT. 5, 1998
M.G. August, 33 <mgaugust@juno.com>, West Palm Beach, FL
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THE QUESTION:
R437: Every day I notice that on the main drag of the South bay of California, a street called El Camino, particularly along a block in Mountain View, there are always around 50 to 100 Latinos standing around early in the morning. I am curious what they are waiting for. I have observed that they are not waiting for a bus. Are they waiting for some sort of work truck that comes by and picks them up? Also, they will often be standing there for hours. I arrive at my bus stop between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., and this same large group of Latinos is always there, waiting for something. I prefer this be answerd by someone who lives in the area mentioned.
POSTED AUG. 31, 1998
D.M., 26, white male <lnx@netcom.com>, Santa Clara, CA

ANSWER 1:
I lived in Marin County for many years, and there was a similar situation in San Rafael. These men are waiting for “day work.” Construction foremen, gardening services, people with hauling business, tree trimmers, etc., will come by their if they don’t have a big enough crew for the day’s job and pick up as many men as they need. These men get paid by the hour, and there is no certainty of getting work on any particular day. According to my friend who’s a roofer, they use these men for the hardest, dirtiest work,and usually they find that the men are illegal immigrants and thus cannot get regular jobs in this country. In San Rafael’s Canal District, there will sometimes be as many as 20 immigrants living in one two-bedroom apartment, none of whom have a steady job, but the situation is still better than it would have been for them in their own country.
POSTED SEPT. 1, 1998
Joan, San Francisco, CA

FURTHER NOTICE:
I know the area you are referring to (El Camino and San Antonio.) You are correct that these men are waiting for work, but there is not a standard work truck that picks them up. They are waiting for any work, and people who need workers stop by and (for example) say, “I need five men to help me move – do any of you speak English?” and then they raise their hands and you tell them what you are willing to pay and they climb into your vehicle and you take them to your house, and drop them off when the work is completed. The benefit: You get cheap labor and they get cash wages without having to fill out forms, get a social security number, report the wages, etc.
POSTED SEPT. 1, 1998
Mimi, 37, African American, <jaejah@juno.com>, Mt. View, CA
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THE QUESTION:
R436: I have a friend who is a vegetarian by choice. She enjoys alternative folk and new age music. She also is interested in a more metaphysical approach to her life and lifestyle. Incidentally, my friend is black/African American. So much for sterotypes. I’d like to hear from other African Americans out there with such interests.
POSTED AUG. 31, 1998
Daquiri, female, Detroit, MI

ANSWER 1:
I’m African American, female, feminist, a part-time Goth (don’t ask), a Witch, like all kinds of music, especially alternative, folk or new age, and like to dye my hair bright colors, etc. I’ve gotten a lot of flak from people about my interests and activities, but these are things I find fun and interesting. It is a comfort, however, to know there are other African Americans who share my interests.
POSTED SEPT. 9, 1998
A. Browne, African-American female <abrowne@sophia.smith.edu>, Northampton, MA
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THE QUESTION:
R435: What is the origin and significance in Hispanic culture of grieving (weeping) until one passes out after the death of a loved one? This was widespread after the recent death of a popular local girl.

POSTED AUG. 28, 1998
J. Cook, 43, white <evll92a@prodigy.com>, Fillmore, CA

ANSWER 1:
Wow! Passing out. Never seen that before. This girl must have been truly loved and the people around her very emotional, but I think to relate this event to “Hispanic culture” is generalizing a bit too much. It could probably be a custom in a certain region of Mexico, for example, but I don’t think so. What if you don’t want to cry anymore? Should you keep going till you pass out, to stick with tradition? Hermanos Mexicanos, conocen algo de esto?
POSTED AUG. 31, 1998
N. Agelvis, 29, Latino <nelsoneas@hotmail.com>, Caracas, Venezuela

FURTHER NOTICE:
I don’t know the origin of weeping until you pass out at funerals, but I saw it among my aunts when I was younger. I believe some people are more emotional and not afraid to show their sorrow. A family member has not died in recent years, so I don’t know if these women would react differently now that they are older.
POSTED SEPT. 1, 1998
Cindy R., 37, Chicana, Los Angeles, CA

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
How do you pass out from crying? Is that medically possible? I’m first generation Mexican, and this is the first time I’ve heard of this. I agree with the other answer – that this must be from a certain part of Mexico.
POSTED SEPT. 1, 1998
Al M., 47, Mexican, Saudi Arabia

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
It is a very old Mexican tradition to weep at funerals. In small towns it used to be common to hire “lloronas” (wailing or weeping women). It is not only a reflection of emotions but a very deep root custom in smaller communities.
POSTED SEPT. 4, 1998
Guillermo, 40, Mexican, Monterrey, CA
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THE QUESTION:
R434: I recently earned a teaching “Clear” credential and the cross-cultural awareness certificate (CLAD) for the state of California. I have been unable to get anyone to answer this question: Why do Mexicans lower their cars in a low-rider fashion?
POSTED AUG. 28, 1998
A. Gott, 49, white male <AVGott@aol.com>, Simi Valley, CA
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THE QUESTION:
R433: Do African Americans and other minority groups feel more comfortable in online chat groups and websites that identify with their ethnic background than other online places? If so, do you think people are still making judgments even though they can’t “see” you?
POSTED AUG. 27, 1998
Justin M., 20, Jewish <justin.mandel@dartmouth.edu>, Newport Beach, CA

ANSWER 1:
I think it’s much simpler than that. Chat rooms are generally for relaxing. After a stressful day of speaking standard English and interacting with the majority population at work, it is much more relaxing and certainly less stressful to converse with other blacks. There is also the matter of sex and flirting, which is prevelant in many chat rooms. It is also more entertaining to flirt with a person of the opposite sex and know they won’t suddenly become distant upon finding that you are a different race.
POSTED AUG. 31, 1998
S. Finley, black male <sfinley@earthlink.net>, Naperville, IL
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THE QUESTION:
R432: Recently I became a step-grandma to a darling little boy. He is one quarter African American, one quarter Indian and half Hungarian. His skin color is black. What should I put down as his race when I am filling out forms that ask for that information?
POSTED AUG. 24, 1998
Linda W. <wedel@lightspeed.net>, McFarland, CA

ANSWER 1:
Since most race-related forms allow for only once choice, the most logical choice may be “other.” I can relate to how you ponder this situation because I am Creole, a mixture of African American, French and Spanish. I am not “bi-racial,” as both of my parents are Creole and they are both descended from a long line of Creoles. So the age-old question “are you black or white?” boils down to which culture you most closely identify with. The Creoles (historically) have never been fair enough to be categorized as Caucasian, and in Louisiana (where a large percentage of us are from) we are considered black – even the fair-skinned. While most of us identify more closely with the African-American community, we cannot ignore the fact that we also have roots in the European regions and can trace our ancestry back to the French who (settled? conquered?) Louisiana. So we could honestly check both black and white on the forms and puzzle the statisticians, or we could choose “other,” as we are also a distinct race, according to Webster’s definition. I am interested in seeing/hearing responses from others of mixed race.
POSTED SEPT. 1, 1998
Mimi, Creole <jaejah@juno.com>, Mt. View, CA

FURTHER NOTICE:
Human.
POSTED SEPT. 19, 1998
N. Ben-Ari <benari-r@worldnet.att.com>, Jacksonville, Fl

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I used Native American for my kids, because of higher educational concerns. Our children will always get a free education because they are registered Navajo Indians. The U.S. Government (through various treaties) has promised Indians a free education, free medical care and free food and clothing. Take advantage of these opportunities, they owe it to the Indians. As an example: We can afford to send them to any school we desire, financially, but we chose to petition the Tribe for educational funds for private school. We received it under the educational grants of the U.S. Government for Native Americans.
POSTED SEPT. 19, 1998
K.R., 51, black male, married to Native American, Oxnard, CA

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I agree with Mimi. For now, I’d probably check “other.” When he grows up, he can change that if he identifies more with one specific group. I think this whole issue of choosing race has become pretty confusing. I’m an American because I was lucky to have been born here. My parents are Cuban, and I’m very proud of that heritage. Often, questionnaires make me choose between “white” and “Hispanic.” I’m both. I don’t think it’s often understood that Cubans come in black and white. Didn’t it used to be that there were three races? Technically speaking, “caucasoid,” “negroid” and “mongoloid” – white, black and yellow? Is that not the case anymore? Why isn’t there a differenitiation between “race” and “ethnicity”? I once discussed this with a black friend, and he thought I was being a “sell-out” if I checked “white,” but to me, “white” is my race (the color of my skin) and “Hispanic” is my culture.
POSTED SEPT. 23, 1998
Natalia, 33, Cuban-American female, Miami, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
Your racial identity is actually based on how you are perceived in your community. Like it or not, you are what people think you are unless you are willing to wear a sign spelling out what you hope they will let you pass for.
POSTED NOV. 13, 1998
Gerry H., Washington D.C.
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THE QUESTION:
R431: Is there a linguistic equivalent or cultural imperative in Chinese that requires that a response to a posed question begin with the phrase “I think…”? If an English-speaking person were translating his or her response into Chinese, what phrase would be needed so as to be “culturally” and “linguistically” correct?
POSTED AUG. 21, 1998
Rick <rkoven@hotmail.com>, King of Prussia, PA
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