When Baby Makes Tres

It’s the question that plagues every bicultural mother-to-be: If I am Irish-American or Venezuelan-American or Korean-American, what will my child be? How can a woman ensure that her American-born child feels the connection to a hyphenated heritage as strongly as she does? Raising Raul: Adventures Raising Myself and My Son is CNN correspondent Maria Hinojosa’s smart, funny take on motherhood in the multicultural millennium.

Born in Mexico, raised in Chicago, Hinojosa (who also hosts NPR’s Latino USA) always hoped that her children would grow up with a strong Mexican identity. She even played with the idea of giving birth in Mexico so that her child would carry a Mexican passport, as she does. Then she married a Dominican artist, and Hinojosa created an international birthing plan. I would give birth to one child in Mexico, she writes. One in the Dominican Republic, one in Mexico… My husband looked at me and said, ‘Tu estas loca.’ (You are crazy.) Hinojosa ends up giving birth, at home, in New York, but as she chronicles her pregnancy, she does seem a little loca. But it’s the kind of crazy every first-time mom will understand. This book, witty and knowing, is a Latina version of Anne Lamott’s best-selling memoir about first-time motherhood, Operating Instructions.

Hinojosa’s stories sing with the cultural richness of being a Latina mom in what she calls gringo-landia. I hide the Mickey Mouse doll a friend gave him, Hinojosa writes. And I replace it with a Mayan one. Am I wrong? Am I crazy? Every choice she makes as a mother is loaded with issues of ethnicity. When gunfire breaks out in her culturally diverse, but sometimes dangerous, Manhattan neighborhood, Hinojosa worries: This is the second time Raul hears gunshots since his birth, she writes. Is this a new sound my baby must process along with turning to the sound of my voice? But she won’t move to the suburbs. I love my barrio, she writes about the neighborhood where she is raising Raul. Loved the fact that there were families everywhere, like the Dominican girls who rushed over to kiss the bebe Raul every time they saw us. Loved the old-timers hanging out at the bodegas with the thumping merengue, who always said buenas tardes. Loved the Mexicanos who speak Nahuatl.

But the struggle to craft a Latino identity is not all about Raul. She remembers how much it hurt to be a little girl who couldn’t find her name on a key chain. Searching the key chains that read Marie and Mary, and never finding Maria, made her feel invisible. Soon after her son’s birth, Hinojosa visits Garden City, Kans. Impulsively, she decides to check for her son’s name on a key chain. It’s there. In the heartland of America, there’s a row of key chains that say Raul. She buys one as a reminder that while she may have once felt invisible as a Latina, her son never will.

Raising Raul. Maria Hinojosa (Viking) 240 pages. $23.95.

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