Margie Hord

Expat by Default

A New Name on a White Stone: What Will it Be?

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Names have a fascination for us. Parents may spend months considering options for children’s names before they are born. The way they sound, their popularity and especially their meaning are often involved in their choices. In other cases, it may be the name of a parent, grandparent, or other well-loved person.

In some cultures, the definitive name isn’t given until parents have an idea of the child’s physical characteristics or personality, and then that’s considered, in terms of the name’s meaning. I knew of a very pale woman named “Blanca Nieves” (Snow White) in Spanish, and a redheaded friend was Robin.

How New Names Happen

Names or nicknames may be changed at some point in a person’s history. When my children were in Scouts, they were given names of animals from Kipling’s Jungle Book, which gave them a sort of new, exciting identity.

There may also be spiritually inspired names, such as those representing a religious conversion. In some cultures, for example, new Christians like to adopt Biblical names when they enter the faith.

In my youth, I asked to be called by the closest equivalent I knew of to my name in Spanish, Margarita, to identify with my having grown up in Latin America. It was also easier for Spanish speakers to pronounce, though over the years I began to invite people to call me by my birth name (Marjory/ Margie) again. One distinct disadvantage of the alternate name was that English speakers tended to relate Margarita with a popular cocktail, whereas in Spanish it means a daisy, a flower that is lovely in its simplicity.

Several of my family members have actually adopted different names legally; in one case, it was to reflect a family surname from the past.

Immigrants may find that their names are hard for those in their adopted country to pronounce, so that they choose an “easier” name, although they might not change it legally.

New Names in Scripture

Several Biblical characters were given a name change to represent a change in their lives. Abram (“Exalted father”) became Abraham (“Father of multitudes”) to reflect God’s promise of his descendants being as many as the stars in the sky, when it still seemed ludicrous. God tells him he will be the father of many nations, and that prophecy has come true.

Another Old Testament patriarch, Jacob (“Supplanter”), became Israel, He who prevails. He was in some ways an anti-hero, having gypped his brother out of his birthright and being exiled for years; much later, he returned to his homeland. After having wrestled with an angel on his way, his relationship to God apparently changed. He was reconciled to his brother Esau.

Simon became Peter, the Rock, much as his faith famously wavered three times before Jesus’ passing. However, this disciple’s faith had also meant he was the only one to walk (for brief moments) on water. Jesus himself declared that Peter was his new name! True to his new spiritual nature, Peter became one of the pillars of the early church. Once brash and impetuous, he became a powerful leader.

 “So we see that these different names are given to people as a blessing from the Lord, to signify that something about them, their nature or their life, has changed in some way”.

Future New Names

In the book of Revelation, we are told of several rewards that God’s faithful ones will receive one day. My favorite is the white stone, with a new name written on it!

“And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it”. (Rev. 2:17 NIV)

Without a doubt it will be better than any name we’ve ever had, very unique, perhaps very intimate.

There are different interpretations for that stone, but the color white often signifies purity. I think of our slates wiped clean when we give our lives to Christ.

One metaphor that may be hinted at here is that of a custom in Biblical days. The jury in a court used a small white stone for the verdict of innocent and a black one for that of guilty. So this this little stone may symbolize our freedom in Christ. The final verdict: our penalty has been paid and we are innocent!

(Unsplash: Timothy Eberly)

Perhaps our name will mean something like “Innocent” or “Free at Last” or “Warrior” or “Beloved Child”.  It will apparently be personalized and unique for each one of us, reflecting our new identity as children of God. It will be a special love-gift, a secret one.

Do you long to receive your new name some day? I certainly do!

The Tooth Fairy… or Mouse?

By Ryan Stone. Unsplash.

As many of you know, part of the focus of my blog is to discuss cross-cultural matters. Today it’s the tooth fairy’s turn.

The Tooth Fairy

What, isn’t the tooth fairy universal? For some reason, when we grow up in a particular culture, we often take for granted that everyone in the world has the same customs. It’s when we have the opportunity to live in other countries, visit them, or meet internationals that our eyes are opened to a wee part of the vast variety of customs that exist.

Some “folklore” traditions are seasonal and related to special holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. One that is unlike them in that sense is the tooth fairy, probably invented to make the somewhat painful trauma of losing baby teeth more pleasant. In fact, little ones who haven’t gotten to the stage of losing any pearly whites will often be jealous of their older siblings and long for that rite of passage as well!

When I was a kid, it was a pretty simple procedure. Wash the blood off that freshly plucked tooth, leave it under your pillow at night, and wait to find the tooth replaced with some money the next day. Fairies do magic! (What in the world they want those teeth for, I can’t imagine.)

Anyway, much as in my childhood I left cookies for Santa and letters for the Easter bunny, there was no other rigmarole surrounding the tooth fairy.

A Bit of History

I just learned that, according to Wikipedia, there is an early reference to the tooth fairy in a 1908 “Household Hints” item in the Chicago Daily Tribune:

“Many a refractory child will allow a loose tooth to be removed if he knows about the Tooth Fairy. If he takes his little tooth and puts it under the pillow when he goes to bed the Tooth Fairy will come in the night and take it away, and in its place will leave some little gift. It is a nice plan for mothers to visit the 5 cent counter and lay in a supply of articles to be used on such occasions.”

This fantasy might be compared to those of Santa Claus and the Easter bunny, but as we see, a difference is that it can be helpful for the “refractory child”. Guess what? I had to look that up, just in case you are also wondering what “refractory” is: disobedient.

The Tooth Mouse

Now transport yourself to the Hispanic world: no tooth fairy! However, as of the late 19th century, “el ratoncito Pérez” took on the job of picking teeth up, or as in Mexico, “el ratón de los dientes”, the tooth mouse, with no Pérez surname. Okay, a little less romantic than a fairy…

Mice can be a little scary for some kids. One of my grandsons was rather fearful of mice, so asked if he could leave his tooth somewhere near his bed but not under his pillow. I don’t suppose many of us would like a mouse sniffing around our pillow at night, right?

Of course, modern commercialism always finds a way to take traditions and overdo them to do business. One can find special boxes for teeth, special miniature doors for the fairy to enter, and so on… even tooth fairy dust or a tiny wand for her to leave behind!

In Mexico and elsewhere there are now all kinds of special containers for the teeth that one can purchase. My in-laws make little felt mice with a pocket for the tooth. Yep, there are doors too, even “vinyl mouse holes” to stick on the wall.

Spin-offs for the Creative

Families can get creative, resulting in innumerable variations of the traditional customs. In my family it was the letters the Easter bunny wrote, for example. Well, this year my grandchildren got quite creative. Near the felt mouse with its tooth-shaped pocket they made a little bed for the mouse, cushioned with a pair of socks and toilet paper, and left him a miniature skateboard and a Cheerios snack. There was even a flashlight on, to light his way!

By the way, those kids now live in the U.S., but their Mexican ways have followed them.  Still, their messages for the mouse were in English! Their parents have learned, as I did, to “mix and match” the practices of two cultures.

Perhaps some of my readers have some other interesting family folklore or take-offs on different cultures that they’d like to share below… feel welcome to comment!

How Can Beauty Come Out of Evil?

Green Glass Sea

Dewey Kerrigan was almost eleven when she moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico in the 40’s to be with her Dad, a scientist at a super-secret location. He and some other scientists, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, were working on a project known as “the gadget”.

Not your everyday gadget, it was the atom bomb.

This fictional account by Ellen Klage builds up around a very real historical event, in the novel “The Green Glass Sea”.

Dewey’s Mom had disappeared when she was a baby, so she’s often on her own or with neighbors. Everything is hush-hush as they wonder whether “the gadget” will help them win the war against Japan.

Finally, the Los Alamos community gathers one night to see an explosion miles away, an eight-mile high, glowing mushroom cloud. It leads to celebration, to cheers, to drinking.

Until the end of the novel, one wonders what in the world the title is referring to. Much as I hate spoilers, this one is central to my topic.

Dewey joins the family of her friend Suze Gordon on an unusual birthday-celebration trip, where they drive out into the middle of nowhere, where it is impossible to imagine anything worthwhile seeing. When they finally walk out into the “flat, featureless desert”, first they come upon charred bushes and small scorched animals.

Suddenly, they discover a “huge green sea”, which instead of being water, is glass. It looks as if “a giant candle had dropped and splattered green wax everywhere”. Suze’s father proudly identifies “the first mineral created on this planet in millions of years”, Trinitite. (Yes, this mineral exists, as a result of those bomb tests!)

Dewey’s friend thinks it looks like kryptonite. Dewey herself puts her hand on the green, pebbled surface in awe, whispering, “Papa helped make this.” She remembers how her Dad’s voice used to sound when he talked about “how beautiful math and science were”.

Dr. Gordon uses a Geiger counter to make sure the girls don’t keep any pieces that are too “hot” with radiation, before they leave

After a bomb test of deadly proportions, beautiful glass!

How telling, that the author should seek to find meaning and beauty in the midst of a story which is ultimately related to destruction. The protagonist herself lives great personal tragedy, which I won’t go into to avoid further spoilers, yet this last memory speaks of hope arising from the ashes, like the mythical phoenix.

Beauty after Bullet Shots

Real life abounds in stories that show how ultimate meaning can come from what seems cruel or meaningless. Recently I read about the horrifying experience of Lisette Johnson of Virginia. Over the years, her husband’s violence had escalated, culminating in a shooting incident where she was left badly injured. Her diaphragm was ruptured; a bullet nicked her heart, and she nearly died.

A bullet is still lodged in her liver.

Lisette’s husband took his own life afterwards.

After such a traumatic ordeal, it is encouraging to read Lisette’s testimony:

“I have a great deal of joy and purpose in my life now. I’ve worked to help pass a law in Virginia that requires people who have a permanent protective order against them to give up their firearms. The law could have made all the difference in my case.” (Woman’s Day, Sept. 2016)

In addition, this survivor works with victims of domestic violence and trauma, helping them to find healing. Out of evil has come healing and help for others, as well as an important step forward legally for protecting potential victims.

Beauty after Loss

Finally, let me refer to two books by Nancy Guthrie that touched me deeply. The first one, “Holding on to Hope”, follows the author’s faith journey as she and her husband made the decision to let their child live after a diagnosis of a rare congenital disease, Zellweger Syndrome. The baby girl, Hope, was given less than six months to live.

The Guthries, knowing the illness could be repeated, decided he should undergo a vasectomy. To their dismay, Nancy became pregnant with a second child, who was born with the same syndrome and also died not long afterwards.

Another book by Guthrie, “Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow”, reflects on grief and loss in such a way that has surely helped many make sense of their suffering.

Much as I question whether I can classify illness as “evil”, it is certainly, for some of us, rooted in the coming of evil to this earth. Without denying the heart-wrenching pain involved in her loss and that of her husband, Nancy Guthrie recognized that good had come as a result.

“To experience and exude peace when life is crashing down around you, to have the lightness of joy when the weight of sorrow is heavy, to be grateful for what God has given you when you’ve lost what is most precious to you– that is God at work on the interior of your life, on display in your life. It is the light of God piercing the darkness of this world.”

Beauty at the Cross

Once I was watching TV at the home of a Laotian immigrant family, who hadn’t lived long in Canada. “Jesus Christ Super-Star” was on, and a young daughter was getting at least some of the story (perhaps totally new to her). Shocked at the crucifixion, she asked me, “Why did they do that? He was a good man!”

I was at a loss for words, particularly knowing that her English was barely functional.

Evil was at the heart of it, in a sense. Ironically, the “father of lies” hoped to destroy the “Author of life”.

However, God was in control and actually was not taken by surprise. He had a purpose in what to some was apparent “failure”, but was meant to save humankind. That sacrifice put the terrible weight of the sins of the world on Christ’s shoulders, to be taken off ours! Later, he burst the bonds of death and beauty reigned.

A sea of beautiful, stunning green glass… daring evil to have the last word and triumph!

 

Just Scatterbrained, or Do I Have ADD?

“If my head weren’t attached, I’d lose it!” Have you ever said that?

For much of my life, I have been known to be forgetful or absent-minded. Then there’s that funny word “scatterbrained”, defined as “disorganized and lacking in concentration”. Bingo!

More recently, as I’ve talked to other family members of different ages, they’ve said they suspect they have something like ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Years ago, most of us didn’t know about that terminology.

Scatterbrained over the Years

Misplacing things was a given. Fortunately, my Mum was “a good looker” (as she liked to say) and my husband too, sometimes finding things where I swore I’d already looked.

Over the years, I’m sure I’ve “lost” dozens of sweaters, Mexican “rebozos” (shawls), and umbrellas, often on public transportation. Once I lost a good new coat in an airport bathroom! In a taxi, I left a hymnbook. On a bus, I left school papers and grades, put up signs on several buses and finally got my bag back from someone who, of course, wanted an award. Absent-minded professor indeed!

One of the most memorable situations related to my carelessness was the time I left a passport on a Greyhound bus in the US. That meant I had to stay there longer than planned, and missed a semester of school in Mexico! Even so, there were blessings in that unexpected “extra time”, things that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Much later in my life, modern technology brought those amazing but all-too-small memory sticks. It’s so easy to forget them somewhere (despite their name), and often I did in classroom computers, internet cafés, and so on. Sometimes I was able to recuperate them, relieved that important information wasn’t lost.

As I reached my 40’s, I began to use reading glasses. In recent years, I was fortunate that my husband was often at home and could bring my glasses to school when I forgot them. Embarrassing, but he patiently took them quite a few times. Once I had to go to a nearby store to buy some new ones.

Another challenge is organization. Making to-do lists is one way I try to keep track of things. My family gets a laugh out of my little lists and post-its all over the place. Of course, I end up having too many, and not finding the one I need when I need it.

Scatterbrained as a Traveler

My mom, and later even my daughter, would remind me upon taking a trip: “Always check how many pieces of luggage you have with you, and count them whenever you move from one place to another”.

On a trip this month, I didn’t have all that much luggage, but I forgot to take that advice into account. In a major airport, after unloading everything onto the security conveyor belt (having left one piece at the bag drop already), I started to take things out of their trays on the other side.

Laptop in backpack, check. Watch on wrist, check. Purse in hand, check.

Then off I went, for what was easily a kilometer walk to my departure gate.

After a short wait, it was time to board the plane. Great, very few passengers, so it was quick.

Upon finding my seat number, I reached for my belongings and realized I had my backpack but not my carry-on suitcase! Too late to go back, but I was given the lost-and-found e-mail to ask about it and “pick it up on my return”. Sorry, I wasn’t planning to return anytime soon!

Fortunately, that happened in Canada; in some countries, that loss might have been permanent. However, it’s going to cost a pretty penny to get that bag back, with special fragile heirlooms included.

Scatterbrained or ADD?

For me, it would seem that extreme absent-mindedness can be related to an attention deficit. Now, as I wonder whether I have some degree of ADD or ADHD, I thought it would be worthwhile doing a little research. This page talks about some symptoms that adults may recognize in themselves.

Anyway, I decided to try a checklist to do a little self-analysis:

Considered lazy or stupid as a child. No
Poor organizational skills, lots of clutter Yes
Tendency to procrastinate For sure!
Trouble starting/ finishing projects Who read my mind?
Chronic lateness No
Frequently forgetting appointments, etc. So-so
Constantly misplacing things YES!
Frequently interrupt others Some
Poor self-control No
Easily flustered and stressed-out So-so (Hubby would say YES)
Low self-esteem and sense of insecurity So-so
Hypersensitivity to criticism Yes (afraid to read student evaluations)
Trouble sitting still, constant fidgeting No
Impulsive, overly talkative No

 

Okay, there are more characteristics listed online, mostly ones where I’d say “no”. Basically, I wouldn’t say I’m hyperactive (which isn’t always part of ADD), and compared to some people I know, I’m not as bad at procrastinating, or forgetting commitments. But as for misplacing or forgetting things, I could almost get a Guiness record! Perhaps I have a partial attention deficit.

So… unless I see a specialist (which I don’t plan to), the jury is out. What about you? If you identify quite a few of these characteristics, and especially if they are affecting your studies, work or relationships, do consider getting help!

Blind Curve: Expect the Unexpected

“Blind curve ahead, trail users exercise extreme caution”, says the sign. True, there are bushes in the way and you can’t see what might hit you if you don’t stay on the right side. Joggers don’t want to smash into speeding bikes, or vice versa! There might be other joggers, skateboarders, or even a coyote or bobcat… The asphalt trail is also open to maintenance vehicles, which would be more dangerous indeed. Caution is a must.

I’d never seen such warnings on a trail before, but I had run into them on highways plenty of times. All the same, it’s pretty obvious you shouldn’t switch lanes on a two-lane road when you can’t see whether traffic is coming in the opposite direction!

In the case of the road or path, a blind curve is a warning sign in itself, telling us to prepare to avoid an undesirable accident.

A curve in an asphalt road in the mountains

But what about those blind curves in life? Don’t you wish there were warning signs? A lot of times it doesn’t happen. Bam! You run right into things like “It’s cancer”, or “He up and died”, or “She left me”. Just in case, should we always “stay in the right lane”? It helps, but doesn’t guarantee zero accidents. Continue reading

Spring at Last

Winter’s snows are but a memory now,

yet their abundance fills

rushing rivers and springs,

their white foaming down waterfalls.

The first bright dandelions dot dirt roads,

and their cousins, the more daring daffodils

show off their frills

in gardens, on hills.

Bold birches bare their stark white bark

against blue skies flecked with clouds.

The wind whispers in the tall pines

and brings the occasional

whiff of spruce.

Hillsides are still

a mixture of dark ever-green

and light browns,

with pale spring greens

and dusky pinks

barely a promise

in almost-budding tree tips.

The new warmth hints of summer,

but winter seems to have been

only yesterday.

 

(Vermont, May 2018)

Reflecting on How to Answer When Told “You’re a Strong Person”

When my husband passed away after 36 years of marriage, several friends encouraged me with the words “You’re a strong woman!” In other words: “You can handle this.” Much as I was thankful for their trust in me, more than once I answered: “I’m weak, but I have a strong God!”

Strength Doesn’t Appear by Magic

When friends face tragedies, a common response is to console them by exhorting them, “Be be strong; have faith.” But strength and faith aren’t resources we can drum up as if by magic. They aren’t innate in us; the truth is that they grow in the middle of challenging experiences. In the long run, I’ve found, my true strength is God-given.  Continue reading

From Mourning to the Morning Light

“O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” These words came to mind as the sun and wind caressed me there in the cemetery. Not in traditional mourning garb, I wore a long, loose white native “huipil” with small colored designs woven into it, one my husband had loved. The workers had begun the long process of filling the grave, as off and on friends sang beloved hymns and choruses of hope.

Just one day after my life companion took off on a new journey, I was overwhelmed by the loss, but at the same time upheld by those “everlasting arms”, sensing the freedom that Refugio’s soul now enjoyed.

It was the rainy season, and in the afternoons a downpour was almost inevitable, but my heavenly Father cared enough to make that day different and the sun shone gloriously.

Divine “coincidences”

There had been innumerable “divine coincidences” that had come together to cushion the blow. Knowing that my husband’s health was fragile with a chronic disease, I had asked if he thought I could visit my aging mother, for those last years can be so unpredictable. He felt he could get by without me, so the long-distance tickets were bought… and not long afterwards my Mum passed away! The memorial service was set for a few weeks later, when I had already planned to be there.

Two weeks after my return, our daughter and family arrived from afar, by surprise. Their presence was so special and perfectly-timed. “Pa” decided to leave us the day before their departure was programmed, just a month after my arrival. Well, our heavenly Father had his hand in it, of course, and they changed their tickets to be with me for the funeral.

These incidences and more have helped to bring rainbows to my life as the sun– and the Son– shine through the tears.

Person waering neutral colors walking through a field of wheat

Only Smiles?

This week I shared a Scottish poem someone had posted in social media about losing a loved one but instead of crying, smiling with the memories of their life. It seemed appropriate. Then a friend commented, “Doesn’t the author accept the reality of grief?”

He’s right. Denying the reality of sorrow, in fact, the need for grieving, is hurtful in the long run. It may mean pushing down those feelings that are natural, real, profound. Releasing those emotions in the form of tears is part of the healing process.

Even so, the glimpses of light filtering through the darkness are more frequent, I believe, when you can cling to the Easter message of resurrection. This is not the end. This life is, in fact, only the Shadowlands, as C.S. Lewis called it, where we prepare for true Life.

Lessons on Mourning from the Word

  • Mourning and grief are an integral part of this fallen world, with the inevitability of death. I am always touched by the tears Jesus shed upon the death of his friend Lazarus. Surely he, who promised eternal life and indeed was LIFE, knew the end of the story. Still, he understood pain. At the same time, he showed there could be victory over death when he raised Lazarus from the dead… a foretaste of his own more permanent resurrection.
  • Two people in mourning or grieving on a couch in a living room

 

 

  • God is with us in the process, and can show us “the light at the end of the tunnel”. Much as there may seem to be no end to our pain, there is hope:

 

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
    You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,”

 

  • The “nighttime” is real; the weeping should be allowed to wash the soul. There is a “morning” ahead:

 

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

  • It is natural to mourn, and it is a time in which our presence is most needed… much more than words. Even crying with them is identifying with their loss.

 

Mourn with those who mourn”.

 

  • Those of us who are people of faith do not make light of grief, much as we hold a hope beyond this life’s sorrow.

       “Godly men… mourned deeply for him.”

 

The day of the funeral, I was able to catch a glimpse of the light beyond the grave. In the days following, there have been tears, often at unexpected times. Friends have been a strength, as has been God’s Word. Joy is not a stranger, however, and is richer now that it can be sensed in counterpoint to the grief.

May you who mourn… find there is “joy in the morning”!

Spring in Narnia… Will it Ever Come?

Snow in April… and even up through April 20! This year, jokes and groans abounded in northern climes as March 21 came and went with no sign of what is known of as spring. Easter, for some, meant Easter egg hunts in the snow.

Those who still hoped for its arrival felt like unrealistic dreamers. My son in Canada posted sarcastic comments about the joys of yet another snow-shoveling adventure ahead as he repeated the mantra, “It’s spring!” I had hoped that upon my April visit such weather would be long gone.

Not a few fellow-sufferers made reference to living in Narnia, where “it’s always winter but never Christmas”, as lamented Mr. Tumnus, of C.S. Lewis’s classic “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

Close-up of a lion staring off into the distance with rocks in the background

In Narnia it had been winter for “ever so long” since it had been under the spell cast by the wicked White Witch. The beloved lion and “true King” Aslan had been banned from its territory and his followers were constantly at risk. As his return was hastened, the dripping of melting snow increased as a sign of the coming “spring at last”.

On April 21—a month after “spring” was official– sunny skies returned to Quebec after what seemed like “ever so long”, blue interspersed with clouds. Today, one day later, the sun was truly in control of glorious cloudless skies. The clumps of snow remaining in yards and roadways have gradually begun to melt away. The weather beckoned us to walk; even without gloves, we could feel the blood still warming our fingertips.

Soon, everyone hopes against hope, buds will swell on the tips of trees. Cheerful crocuses, like the handful that surprised us today, with their purples and whites, will push through the ground. Spring rain will further soften the earth to make way for what should be reality: “April showers bring May flowers”.

In church today, this message suggested by nature was echoed by the worship leader, who reminded us that as Christians we are those who ever hope for Spring: for God’s total redemption, for Christ’s second coming, for the final defeat of sin and evil. Of course, we know they were defeated on the Cross, although their presence was not yet banned.

Earth has been under the spell of the Evil One ever since the Fall. The initial blow was dealt with Christ’s coming, but we look forward to the final victory.

Spring is coming.

King Aslan is coming…

Christ is coming!

California: Am I in the US?

Years ago, an international event found me in Anaheim, California and one day I went sight-seeing with my colleagues from Mexico, where I live. We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant/ cafeteria, where we selected items before paying. I was the last one from my group in line, and was flabbergasted when the Chinese cashier spoke to me in Spanish. Obviously, despite my very Anglo-Saxon looks, she realized I was with the Mexicans and was well-prepared to attend us. It was then that I realized how important Spanish was in California.

Recently, family connections have brought me to southern California again. It’s easy to forget I’m in the States when every other person seems to be speaking Spanish. Amazingly, Hispanics now make up 39% of the state’s population (Texas comes in a close second place with 38%) and Spanish is the second most spoken language.  Continue reading

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