Imagine not being able to read this sentence …
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: You are now doing something millions of American can't. You're reading this. We'll admit that we never realized how many people are functionally illiterate, until we met someone who was doing something about it.
We first met Jackie Aguilera over a decade ago at a Houston Money Week meeting … her energy, enthusiasm, and passion for financial literacy not only took us by surprise, but it was contagious. (Admit it, financial literacy sounds boring.) But she was integrating it into a literacy and workforce readiness program for adults, and as we became friends and started working together, we realized she was a leader in her knowledge of adult literacy and a pioneer in how she approached it in dynamic and innovative ways. (DISCLAIMER: The next comment is not meant to plug our book, but as an example of her outside-the-box approach to making learning relevant.) And using unusual resources, such as our book, What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!, to engage students as well as teach a myriad of subjects, even using our bookmark (yes, a simple bookmark!) to introduce important life skills.
Having dedicated more than two decades to the field of adult literacy, she's now the Project Manager of the Mayor's Office for Adult Literacy (MOAL) Houston, working with Federico Salas-Isnardi, Director of MOAL, to carry out Mayor Turner's vision for a Houston where every individual can obtain the skills necessary to prosper and reach their full potential. (Houston is the only major city in the country where the Mayor's Office includes an Office for Adult Literacy!)
Along the way, Jackie has opened our eyes to the number of people who can't read (including one in three Houstonians), and made us stop and think about how that impacts every aspect of their lives … their families … their communities. Last week in our monthly Zoom session, she let us know that there would be a very exciting announcement. And she wasn't kidding! On Tuesday, the Mayor announced the "Houston Blueprint for Adult Literacy," a joint initiative of MOAL and the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation. We were watching the press conference and couldn't be prouder and more excited knowing that Jackie will be a part of this amazing endeavor. As former First Lady Barbara Bush said many years ago,
If you help a person to read, then their opportunities in life will be endless.
Are you familiar with Hispanic Heritage Month? If not, maybe it’s time.
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: It seems like every month has a “national celebration”, and although we both agree there’s so much to celebrate during Hispanic Heritage Month, Red initially focused on the strange timing (starting mid-month) while Black focused on the lesser known (yet significant) achievements of the Hispanic community, as well as a name-calling incident that she can’t forget.
Red will admit that she only first heard of Hispanic Heritage Month in 2021, which is pretty surprising given that she loves history (ok, Tudor England is her area of interest) and has lived in Texas (which has a large Hispanic population) for over twenty years! With her first question being,
Like any good straight-A student, I can memorize that it’s celebrated from September 15 through October 15, but that doesn’t make much sense to me. So, I’ve got to ask Black’s favorite question, why?
Well, after a bit of research (by Black, of course, who believes homework never ends, you just call it research when you grow up), Red learned that the unusual starting date of the month-long celebration is in honor of the anniversaries of independence for many Latin American countries. Which led to her next questions,
It’s called Hispanic Heritage Month, but it also seems to cover Latino achievements and contributions. Or is it Latinx? What’s the difference? Is there a difference?
Black wanted to avoid these questions as the answers aren’t black and white (no pun intended, especially as she didn’t want to get into the topic of why AP News decided to capitalize “Black” but not “brown” or “white” when referencing people by the color of their skin). And although “Hispanic vs. Latino” is easier to explain, there’s controversy over the “Latinx” term. Plus, the “labeling of people” reminded Black of an ugly – and infuriating – incident where a friend was questioned about not being “brown enough”. So, she decided to focus on what is far more important,
Are you aware of the contributions Hispanics have made to American history? Or, the breadth of their accomplishments, including patents). Not only are they impressive, but they have had a far-reaching and lasting impact on the country.
Everyone should celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, whether by attending a festival, a concert, a parade, reading about notable Hispanic Americans, or even watching a movie or documentary. Or, if you’re like Red, comparing “In The Heights” to “West Side Story.”
Can we agree to disagree? No, we’re not talking politics – we’re talking pumpkin spice.
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: Fall has become the season of pumpkin, or more specifically pumpkin spice; which Red absolutely loves for various reasons while, for Black, besides the fact she doesn’t like the flavor, it just screams, well, MARKETING.
Yes, Red will admit that having pumpkin, one of the strongest symbols of fall, appear in August (thanks Starbucks, Dunkin’, and Cup Noodles, yes, pumpkin spice flavored noodles!) while we’re still in the midst of sweltering summer heat is a bit much. But she loves how it reminds her of growing up in the northeast, with the first crisp mornings and the onset of early and chilly evenings. With childhood memories of raking mounds of leaves only to jump in and scatter them, and then repeating the process. (Which Black has pointed out is now deemed dangerous, something Red plans to conveniently forget when she travels down memory lane).
But mostly, the sight of pumpkins reminds her of picturesque pumpkin farms and the brilliance of fall foliage, which, now that Labor Day weekend is behind us and her thoughts turn to fall, is what she misses most. So, short of jumping in the car to take a road trip to see fall foliage, she’ll have to settle for the tastes that remind her of fall, which won’t be difficult given all the pumpkin spice options.
Although this year, there’s one that has special meaning for Red,
When the girls were growing up, even though it was in Texas, one of their favorite fall “treats” were pumpkin spice Oreo cookies. But they stopped making them in 2017, the year that Natasha moved overseas. So, when I learned they’re coming back this year, it made me smile. I’ll be stocking up on them so I can send them to the girls, although I have a feeling I’ll have to ration them.
Black appreciates how much all of this means to Red, and even tracked down some of the new limited-edition pumpkin spice graham crackers Goldfish (a partnership between Dunkin’ and Pepperidge Farms) before they were publicly available as a surprise for her 60th birthday. But that doesn’t stop Black from rolling her eyes at all the people who have succumbed to the pumpkin spice marketing machine, and the seemingly endless list of pumpkin spice products (besides food and beverage, there are air fresheners and candles, but hair color?!).
I am not going to get into the science of why people are obsessed with pumpkin spice or the fact it is a $500-million-a-year business. Interestingly, it started in 2003 when Starbucks introduced the pumpkin spice latte, now commonly called PSL, although pumpkin spice has been around for over 200 years. So, it is not a new concept, but does show you the power of marketing.
P.S. – Given all this talk about pumpkin spice, you might be surprised to learn that it doesn’t even have pumpkin as an ingredient.
In a promise to “never forget” we’re rerunning our 2021 post so that we always remember …
September 11 is a date on the calendar, but "9/11" is a date in history.
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: Much like JFK's assassination was to an older generation (although Black's old enough to be included), we both remember exactly what we were doing when we first heard the news of the attacks on the Twin Towers, Pentagon, and Flight 93; but, interestingly, how we reflect on 9/11 is a bit of a role reversal.
Red, being a lover of history, thinks about 9/11 unemotionally, focuses on what led up to it and what has happened since, although she doesn't deny the feelings of total disbelief and sadness. Black, usually the pragmatic sister, remembers the power of the emotions the country felt. First, feelings of shock and grief, immediately followed by an overwhelming need to help, and then the realization that what makes America great is our collective pride, courage, and compassion. Feelings that 20 years later are difficult to forget … or are they?
Rightfully so, there's an overwhelming number of TV specials about 9/11, its history, the 20-year aftermath, the politics. And a long list of books, ranging from facts and research to opinions and viewpoints to first-hand accounts. Red, of course, favors the movies, and one that stands out is 'Worth," which explores the facts from the perspective of a story (vs. a documentary) while still conveying the power of the events and the people touched by them.
But what about all the young people (like Red's oldest daughter, who was only three at the time, or her youngest, who wasn't even born) who are only experiencing 9/11 through the eyes of others? What do you want them to know or remember? Perhaps, John Kerry said it best,
Remember the hours after September 11th, when we came together as one to answer the attack against our homeland. We drew strength when our firefighters ran up the stairs and risked their lives so that others might live. When rescuers rushed into smoke and fire at the Pentagon. When the men and women of Flight 93 sacrificed themselves to save our nation's Capitol. When flags were hanging from front porches all across America, and strangers became friends. It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.
So, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, never forget … the best in all of us.