Between CulturesFebruary 9, 2013
Story by Candy Neal
Photos by Rachel Mummey
Alejandra Klawitter closes her eyes for a moment as she plays her acoustic guitar.
She concentrates on a bluegrass piece, a style of music that’s outside her normal musical realm as a professionally trained classical guitarist.
Alejandra glances at the group of musicians around her at the Lost River Market and Deli in Paoli, people that she jams with on the occasional Wednesday evening. She checks out the other guitarists’ fingerings and how they pluck different chords. When her eyes land on friend and fellow guitarist Pete Webb, he nods his head in encouragement.
Alejandra gives him a smile and jams on.
Alejandra’s personality is naturally outgoing and social. The 40-year-old has used those traits and her musical skills to learn about and integrate into the American community she has called home for the last nine years.
“It is different here than it is in my country,” she says, referring to Mexico, her Spanish accent evident. “There is so much to learn. I want to learn all that I can.”
She studied at Escuela Nacional de Musica, the National School of Music, in Mexico City. She has played at concert halls, theaters and festivals in Mexico City and Guanajuato, a city in central Mexico about 230 miles northwest of Mexico City.
She came to the United States in 2004 to study for her doctorate and participate in a cultural exchange program at Indiana University. While there, she met Sam Klawitter and fell in love.
Although music had been her life, she started to re-evaluate her priorities.
“I have played since I was a child,” she says. “Music was my life. But then I saw that my friends in the band were married. My sisters were married. And I realized that I did not want to be alone. My parents will eventually die and my sisters will have their own families. I did not want to be without a family.”
She moved to Dubois County and married Sam in 2005. The couple lives on the Klawitter family land in rural Dubois, their home enveloped by trees. Her mother-in-law, Kathy Klawitter, lives with them and their two children, 6-year-old Leah and 4-year-old William. Despite Sam, 35, being a computer engineer, the family lives off the land as much as possible, as is tradition in Sam’s family.
“That was a little bit of an adjustment for me, because I’m a city girl,” Alejandra said. “But it’s much healthier this way. And I want my children to know how to take care of themselves when they don’t have all the modern things.”
That includes growing vegetables and canning them for future use, butchering animals for the meat, cooking from scratch, making tools to fix things that break and making clothes.
Alejandra takes classes whenever she can to learn how to make American foods naturally. She also teaches friends and offers classes for the public on how to make traditional Mexican foods, like tortillas and salsa.
She doesn’t perform as much as she did when she was a full-time musician, but she puts on shows at libraries and churches. Whenever she is asked, she does her best to accommodate a request. “I still enjoy playing,” she says. “But I am doing so many other things too. And having children, you really don’t have much free time.”
Webb is glad whenever Alejandra can make it to Paoli for a jam session.
“She is superb,” he says. “She knows music frontwards, backwards, upside down and sideways.”
They are teaching each other. “She’s learning about old country and bluegrass. And I’m learning some new music too,” the 66-year-old says. “We can play a few Mexican songs; it’s simple tunes she grew up with. She’s really patient with us.”
“We’re both dipping our toes in different water,” Webb says with a laugh.
He’s noticed that new people in the audience are surprised when they see Alejandra sitting among the group of white people with her instrument. “People who’ve never seen her here before will look at her strangely,” he says. “But once she starts to play, she wins them over. She is a master at music.”
Ale (pronounced “Allie”), as her friends call her, tries to encourage other Hispanics to reach outside of their cultural group to associate with others. Being caught between two cultures, however, she herself doesn’t get to connect with the local Hispanic population much. “I am sort of shunned,” she says, “because I married a white man.”
While she and Sam are teaching their children American customs, Alejandra is teaching them about their Mexican heritage as well. “They are half-Mexican. I don’t want them to forget that,” she says. “I will not let them forget who they are.”
Leah and William can speak both Spanish and English. They know how to make tamales and are learning how to make pasole, which is a Mexican stew, and enchiladas. The family celebrates all the major Mexican holidays, as they do American holidays. “You have Independence Day here. Well, we have Independence Day too, Sept. 16,” she said. “You do St. Nicholas Day. We have Three Kings Day. I want them to be aware that the American culture is not the only culture out there.”
Because they are a culturally blended family that lives differently than most people in Dubois County, Alejandra is always actively conscientious about making sure that her children are able to associate with people outside of the family.
“I want to integrate my children into the modern culture,” she says. “But because we live differently, I have to make more of an effort to have them out with other children. I want them to have friends. I want them to feel comfortable with other people. And being Hispanic, it can be hard to integrate sometimes.”
On a Tuesday morning, William runs around Hodgini School of Dance and Gymnastics in Jasper with other kids in his class. They are jumping and tumbling and twirling as they sing, “The wheels of the bus go round and round…”
After a few minutes, the 4-year-old runs across the soft mats on the floor to the bleachers where his mother sits.
“Did you see me?” he asks her excitedly, holding her hands that she’s placed on his waist. “Are you looking?”
“Yes, I saw you,” Alejandra answers. “You were very good.” Satisfied with response, he runs back to his class.
Alejandra leans over to another mother sitting near her. “He has to make sure I’m watching,” she says with a chuckle.
The woman returns the laughter, saying that her granddaughter is the same. The two launch into a conversation, talking about parenting and noting that their tumbling kids are a lot alike, before William runs back for more affirmation.
“If you don’t try to integrate into the society, you will sit on the side,” Alejandra says. “I will not let my children sit on the side.”
Contact Candy Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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