Sep. 30, 2011
By J.E. Espino
At Marcelo and Susan Garcia Franz's home, chances are a vegetable soup — possibly one made with zucchinis and quinoa — is on the dinner table.
The dish is part of most home-cooked meals that Marcelo prepares for their two children at the family's Town of Menasha residence. It reminds Marcelo of the staple diet he received as a boy living in a crowded Ecuadorian household of 10.
"When I was growing up, eating out was a foreign concept. We didn't go out to eat ever," he said. "Once in a while when I was helping my mom at the open market, we'd have lunch made at one of the stands. But other than that, one of your brothers and sisters would cook at home. Or if you stayed with the neighbors, then they would cook."
But there are stark differences within the Garcia Franz family, which is representative of the demographic shift the Fox Valley is experiencing, and how the nature of diversity has changed over the past decade.
Marcelo Garcia, 44, married Susan Franz, a Neenah native, 13 years ago. His food preferences are in daily competition with hamburgers and chips — items that are commonplace on kids' menus and at community functions they attend.
Pacha, 9, whose name means "world" in Quechua, the Inca language, can eat bowlfuls of the soup. Her older brother, Rumiñaui, 10, named after an Inca warrior, tells his dad his taste buds are tired of his food. When the cooking defaults to Susan, 39, the children want macaroni and cheese.
They watch movies like "The Devil Wears Prada" in Spanish. It is good practice for Susan, who is fluent in Spanish but still struggles with tricky idioms. The children understand the language, but are at the point where they answer only in English.
Susan never worries about Marcelo being glued to the TV watching Sunday sports programming. Until the 2010 season, Marcelo never followed the Green Bay Packers or any other NFL team.
"We went to our first Packers game last year. Of course, it was a Super Bowl year. I like to credit it to Marcelo for converting into a Packers fan," Susan said with a grin.
Sharing cultural values
Over lunch on a Monday in August, Marcelo and Susan sat at Antojitos Mexicanos, a restaurant in downtown Appleton, to reflect on their marriage — and how they blend and transmit the values they grew up with to their son and daughter.
For the couple, it has meant a life of balancing the values and traditions of two countries.
"How you adjust to one another depends on how open-minded you are about culture," Marcelo said.
To that end, Hispanics have made strides in seeping into the mainstream.
"Garcia" has become one of four Hispanic surnames to rank among the 15 most common since 2000. It was the most frequent of the four, placing eighth on the list. Rodriguez followed in ninth place, Martinez in 11th and Hernandez in 15th.
Marcelo was a breakfast cook at a restaurant in Madison when he met Susan in 1995. He completed his studies in speech therapy in Cuenca, Ecuador, and started fresh in this country.
Susan graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh the previous year with a degree in international studies and Spanish. She was hired to work part time in the restaurant's bakery.
Susan has been fascinated by Latin American culture since her teenage years, when she visited her wintering grandparents in Weslaco, Texas. She would cross the border to Mexico, curious about the people, their food and customs.
"I like the whole idea of the family being the center and that people come together and help one another," Susan said.
While working at the restaurant, Susan practiced her Spanish on Marcelo. After she left three months later, they went out a few times. But the relationship was stricken by a cultural misunderstanding from the start. He had serious intentions.
"I was brought up to pursue a lady, and if it gets serious, we need to get married. But that is not how the American way is," he said.
Her reaction was, "Whoa. Because being from here, we ease into things."
So they went their separate ways until they were reunited at a party 1½ years later.
"We started going out again, with me having a different mentality about how things work here," Marcelo said.
In October 1998, they married at Cathedral Pines in Lakewood, a small town in Oconto County. The reception was at the Wild Wolf Inn on the Wolf River, and Marcelo was stunned that some guests left before dancing got under way.
Forging a relationship
Like many couples, Marcelo and Susan have learned to compromise.
He is a minimalist and insists on frugal living, largely because of his background.
"I tell them about how many times I had to walk to school barefoot, which I did. My dad would buy me a pair of rubber boots and that had to last a whole year. We as kids kicked stones in the road and they would break," Marcelo said. "So, I'd take a machete. We cooked in an open fire, and I would heat up the machete to seal the boot."
Stories like that also can be a source of déjà vu for Susan, whose mother grew up on a farm.
"She didn't have a whole lot growing up and they had to do this and they had to make that last for this long," she said. "I was used to the stories, but kind of now having it in adulthood?
"There are times when I think the kids are growing out of things … and they need something that fits them better. He says, 'Are you sure?' or 'We can't bring it in unless we've taken something out.'"
And yet, she's won the battle on Christmas gift-giving.
"After you've spent an Ecuadorian Christmas, gifts aren't even part of it. It's all about the holiday and the Nativity scene. It's all about a big dinner with the family," she said.
The rule at the Garcia Franz household is one gift for each child.
"He pushes me to rethink things, and hopefully I push him to say, it's OK to embrace certain things. It's part of the evolution. A lot of his relatives look to us for a lifestyle they think they might want. There are some things to embrace and some things to say, 'You don't want that.'"
Source: Post Crescent