Mari is a regular contributor at Multicultural Familia and the entrepreneur behind Family Click, a private virtual family network where you can safely share pictures, videos, books and more with your loved ones abroad! Read Mari’s blog in English or Spanish, follow her on Twitter @FamilyClick and Fan her on Facebook at facebook.com/FamilyClick!
What are three personality traits that best describe you and how do they impact your personal identity?
Organized, determined, and honest. These three quality traits have always been helpful in my life. They have helped me go far in my professional and personal life. It’s also been a bit of an obstacle, especially my honesty. I believe in the truth, no matter how much it hurts. This has gotten me into trouble sometimes and I’ve had to learn the hard way that sometimes there are unspoken rules and that people don’t always want to hear what they need to hear.
What are your fondest childhood memories related to your cultural heritage?
Cooking and spending time with my grandmother. My grandmother was born and raised in Cuba but had Spanish parents who took her repeatedly throughout her lifetime back to Spain to visit. She taught me how to cook Cuban beans, she taught me about life in Cuba and also about her love for Spain. She taught me I was a product of those two wonderful countries even if I wasn’t born in either one.
What was your family like when you were growing up?
My family always made it clear that we were Cuban. It felt very closed. Even though they lived in Puerto Rico and even though my grandfather called it his second home, he still felt Cuban and differentiate himself and the rest of the family from Puerto Ricans. He died wishing Cuba had been free. At my house, Cuban food was always served and other Cuban families were always “preferred”. This made it sometimes hard for me to relate and find my true identity. It felt like I had to be clear on the fact that I was Cuban, even if I wasn’t born or raised there. It was a bit confusing.
How did you meet your spouse?
We met in Atlanta while we were both starting our careers at CNN. CNN is a great place for cultural integration. I worked with people from all over the world there, so it seems fitting and appropriate that my husband and I met there.
What is your family’s heritage, culture, language, faith, etc.?
My husband is from Argentina. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico but my parents are Cuban. We see the results of this mix in our girls, especially on the older one who is now beginning to understand and find her own identity. She proudly proclaims she is Puerto Rican. But she knows that her daddy and abuela are from Argentina. She speaks mixing up accents and words she’s heard from both of us. She is very spiritual and religious like I am. She loves to read books and listen to music from Argentina and she especially loves the treats she gets from Argentina that she can’t get in Puerto Rico.
In what ways are you and your spouse different? In what ways are you alike?
Even though we were born and raised 5,000 miles apart, we are sometimes stunned by how similar our family backgrounds were. This made it easy for us to relate to each other. Our family background similarities were almost eerie. Case in point: both of our fathers and their fathers were named Enrique. Both of our maternal grandfathers’ names were Alberto and both were entrepreneurs. Both were fixated on keeping the family together and being patriarchs. Our mothers were born one day apart. Both had two generations of divorces in the family (not only had our parents divorced, but also our grandparents!). He and I share odd sounding birthdays (11/11 for me, 12/12 for him). As you can imagine, this gave us plenty to talk about when we first met.
However, we were very different in the way we were brought up. I was taught that academics were a vital part of my life. Straight A’s were always important. My family was also very strict with me and I was spanked many, many times. My mother was very religious and a church-goer. None of these things applied to him. His family is not religious, grades were not important and his mother was not a strict disciplinarian like my mother was. One other thing that was different was that my mother was determined for me to see the world and my dad always wanted me to learn about things outside Puerto Rico. My husband’s mother was keen on making sure her son never left the country.
What made you decide to start FamilyClick?
It just happened after a very frustrating video-chat between my daughter (who at the time was 2 yrs. old) and my mother-in-law. My daughter was not interested in video chatting and my mother-in-law was doing everything possible to keep her entertained. She raised books up to the webcam, she played children’s music on her end, but nothing worked to keep my daughter’s attention. My husband and I were stuck in the middle trying to keep our daughter focused and just frustrated with the process. That’s when, after that call, my husband and I started talking and saying that there had to be a better way to keep our daughter interested in a video-chat with her grandmother.
Do you think your background and culture influenced FamilyClick?
My background has definitely been defining. I come from a multicultural background. I’ve also lived in 4 different countries and have traveled to many more. This has inspired me to make sure that www.familyclick.com is as multicultural and multilingual as possible. This would also be the case for any future business I develop.
Having also suffered great personal loss in my childhood (my parents divorced when I was 5 and my mother passed away when I was 16), holding on to family even when apart has been essential for me.
How many children do you have and how old are they? Do you write about them on your blog? If so, what are your favorite posts about your children?
My girls are 5 and 2. I don’t have a separate blog apart from the one I created for FamilyClick, but I would absolutely talk about how unique and quirky our girls and our families are. I think we all feel the same about our kids, don’t we?
What is your personal mission? What do you seek to achieve in your lifetime?
I think I am a simple person. I don’t have huge goals except to do those things which I am passionate about. I just want to enjoy my life, I want to savor every moment. I want to look back without any regrets. Follow the beat of my own drum, rather than anyone else’s. So far, so good.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? What would you do there?
I can’t wait to visit Asia. I want to learn a lot more about Asian culture, history, food, and religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. I would love to visit among other places, Thailand. I would also give anything to visit Singapore. One of my dearest friends lives there and I think she is one of the most interesting people I have ever met.
How does the community you live in influence your cultural/personal identity?
I live in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is caught between two flags, Puerto Rico and the United States. In so many ways we feel Latin but we also have so many preferences to the American culture. After all, we have American citizenship since the day we are born. We speak Spanish but we also have English as an official language. In this island, we are all affected and unconsciously always looking for our own identity. We see it in our political parties, in our culture and in our way of life. If there has ever been a country with an identity crisis, it would be Puerto Rico.
What advice would you give to other mixed couples/families?
Compromise, compromise, compromise. Accept and love the differences between each other as well as the similarities. Being in a mixed family/relationship is a blessing. It opens up a whole new world and makes you a better person for it.
What challenges and blessings have you faced in your relationship? In parenting?
In the past few years, we have both been wrestling with our own identity and where we really belong and where do we want our kids to belong. It didn’t seem to matter where we lived or how much we moved around before we had children, but after our girls were born we both started an inner struggle all having to do with finding the place that we would both be happy at and the kind of life we wanted to give our children. I left Puerto Rico when I was 17 and only returned when I turned 31. I felt a strong urge to come back right after my daughter was born. My husband on the other hand, who had never cared about going back to Argentina and even left the country willingly, thinking he was never going to return, sometimes longs to go back and see what it would be like to live there again.
We have been blessed however by two wonderfully smart, open-minded and socially well-adjusted girls. This is what I am most proud of. They understand and love cultural differences. They have friends who are children of mixed marriages as well as regular relationships. My oldest girl, who is only 5, has a real concern about the environment, about social justice and about fairness. I couldn’t have asked for anything better and I’m happy to say it is the way that we have raised them.
Who or what was your biggest inspiration in life? What motivates you?
I was lucky enough to be surrounded by very strong women who overcame many odds in their lifetime and taught me that anything is possible. Two female figures that stand out are my grandmother and my great-aunt. I learned from them that life is a journey and you have to take the good with the bad and learn from all experiences. That all of them make you stronger for it and that you can’t depend on anybody for your happiness. You have to find that in yourself. Both ladies are now gone. I miss them very much but I always remember their words of love and advice for me. I learned from them, that no obstacle is too big to overcome.