Passport to Poconos – Keeping Our Roots

My friend Lisa showed me an old picture of five generations of women in her family gathered in Puerto Rico between the ages 4 months and 100 years old. Her daughter brought her baby from the States so her grandmother and great grandmother could see her.

“How lucky you are,” I told her. “It’s rare that so many generations can be alive at the same time.” Lisa had been raised by her mother in New York and by her grand mother in Puerto Rico. Her mother was working night shifts and couldn’t care for her. “Did you speak Spanish when you went back to Puerto Rico?”  I asked. “Yes, my mother never allowed me to speak anything but Spanish at home. She didn’t want me to forget my roots.  My schoolteachers wanted my mother to speak English to me but she refused. She new my only chance to be bilingual was to speak Spanish at home.” So Lisa learned to speak Spanish in the States, but didn’t learn to write it until she went to school in Puerto Rico.

Later, Lisa married another Puerto Rican and had three daughters. “Did you speak Spanish at home?” I asked again. “No,” she said sheepishly, “We kept Spanish as our secret language until our daughters were old enough to understand us. We thought they would get confused if they learned both languages. We wanted them to learn correct English, not Spanglish.”

I‘ve discussed this language dilemma with other people from different cultures. “It’s not easy,” my friend Lisset says. “My eight-year-old son, Marcel, understands Spanish but will only respond in English.” “I am American, not Cuban” declares Marcel.  Pedro, another nuyorican, told me: “First generations normally want to integrate fully to the US and will only speak English to their children; unless they don’t know how to speak it themselves. The second generation is normally upset for not speaking it and wants their kids to embrace their roots. I want my kids to be proficient in both Spanish and English. We Hispanics are proud of our culture now, but it wasn’t like that years ago.”

Lisa told me she regrets not having taught her daughters Spanish. “ Now we know that children can learn more than one language. I’m moving to Colorado with my husband to be near our daughters and grandchildren. We´ll make sure the little ones learn Spanish.”

There is never an easy path. We try to make the right decisions for those we love. I was brought up in Spain at an English speaking school. At home we spoke a mix of languages from my parent’s different cultures. It was chaotic but we managed to communicate. With all families, we do our best and then hope for the best.

Christina’s radio show, Tu Voz con Christina, is at 8 a.m. every Sunday on Pocono 96.7. Email:


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Passport to Poconos – Comfort Food

I was passing through security at the Barcelona, Spain airport, coming back to the States, when a suspicious inspector zipped open my carry hand bag and looked wide-eyed at it’s contents: packages of paella rice, Catalan noodles, cans of Spanish clams (berberechos) and olives with anchovies. “Are you smuggling something or what?” he asked.

I looked at him apologetically and grinned as I explained, “It’s hard to find these things in the USA, and if I do they´re are too expensive. I need to feel at home and make my favorite dishes.” He gave me a puzzled look before letting me go.

My husband always complaints, “More rice, more berberechos?” You already have enough to supply the entire northeast.¨ But having enough of Spain in my pantry gives me a sense of ease.

Everyone in every culture has their comfort food.  When I was a child my mom would always make her chicken soup with rice. I didn’t like it. I would go across the hall to our neighbor and my god mother, who would give me packaged chicken soup with noodles. That tasted wonderful though my mother never understood why I preferred the powdered soup to her natural version. “Mom, chicken soup tastes better with noodles than with rice”. She never changed her recipe and my taste didn’t change either. So packaged chicken soup with thin noodles became my food of choice.

I remembered this last week when I felt a need of comfort food and I opened a package of my Catalan noodles and my chicken broth brought from Spain to bring me back the memories of a time when this was what comforted me.

A while ago my husband was ill and as I was heading to work so I asked friends to check on him. “How did it go?” I asked them. “Well,” they said, “we offered to get some medicine but he just wanted cottage cheese.” When I got home he asked me to make him macaroni (elbow noodles) with cottage cheese and butter, the food that he remembered from his childhood. The food his mother made for him when he was ill.

Comfort food is the food that takes us to a safe place where we remember we always felt good. We go back to it when we need to.  I didn’t know how to make macaroni and cottage cheese. It seemed like a strange combination. I added a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the side (peanut butter, yeach. I have no taste for it). But this was his comfort.

Today my husband makes breakfast. Peanut butter toast for him and my Catalan bread rubbed with fresh tomato, olive oil and a little salt for me.

I feel we are all lucky to have memories of tastes and foods that makes us feel better every morning!

Christina’s radio show, Tu Voz con Christina, is at 8 a.m. every Sunday on Pocono 96.7. Email:


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Passport to Poconos – Summer

“I need to go to the beach. Even if it’s for a day or two, preferably more otherwise it doesn’t feel like Summer vacation”, I told my husband.

He is planning a hike in the Pyrenees and I want to head to the beach. So we were trying to find a balance between both our wishes while we are still in Spain.

My friends in Spain understand how I feel. I grew up in Barcelona, next to the beach by the Mediterranean Sea. Some people would vacation in the mountains but most of us relate our summer holidays to the sea.

The sea gives me a sense of space, of infinity and it was the first connection I had with nature. I can feel my feet dragging through the warm sand as it molds under my feet. I feel the breeze that brings me the flavor of the smells of the sea. The sounds of the waves with their constant rhythm gives me a soothing feeling. A friend told me that this is because of the higher concentration of negative ions in the water. And negative ions enhance our moods!

During my childhood, until my late teens, my parents would rent a place by the beach next to the city, close to the airport where my father worked. It would be for a month during summer or sometimes for two months, just until we started school in the fall. It all depended in our budget as my dad always worked two jobs.

Eventually they brought a place. That area wasn’t the most beautiful of the coast but it was convenient for it’s closeness.

I remember those happy times. We played all day long with other children in the apartment complex, going to the pool and to the beach with my mother. In the afternoons it was ice cream time and more play time until it got dark. This is how our summers went; away from the heat of the city, embracing the freedom and space the beach gave us.

As I write these words I feel grateful to my parents for making the effort to give us those summers of liberty by the beach. I now realize the effort they made to give us some space to play and be in contact with nature.

Even if I always need to be in contact with the ocean now and again, I have gone through a transformation where I now relate the nearness of nature to the beauty of the Poconos. That brings me a feeling of calmness much like the beach. And I’ve also heard that hugging trees has proven to beneficial to your health! As soon as get home I´m going out in the yard and finding a good solid specimen to hug. Hopefully without spiders, mites, or deer tics.

Christina’s radio show, Tu Voz con Christina, is at 8 a.m. every Sunday on Pocono 96.7. Email:

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Passport to Poconos – Second Chances

I heard someone scream my name as I was getting out of my car heading into the Pocono Medical Center. Then I saw a familiar face: Marialides. She is a warm, enthusiastic woman from Venezuela. There was a beautiful teenage girl with her. “This is my daughter, María” she said.

I met Marialides two years ago when she read about me in The Pocono Record. It was article about my Spanish radio show, then on WESS (where I started). She was excited that the Latin community was being addressed on the radio. We kept in touch and last week she called me brimming with emotion, “ My daughter is graduating from high school, next week. I’m so proud of her achievement”. She invited me to her graduation and I was eager to meet María again and hear her story.

María is now seventeen. She came to the USA when she was eleven and it took Marialides three years to deal with the paper work to bring her daughter here. “We will get together, you’re mine forever and I promise you we will be reunited,” her mother kept telling her in their phone calls.

When María finally got to the US she had no clue how to speak English. When she saw her new school she thought, “Is this an airport or a hospital?” The buildings of Stroudsburg Middle School were bigger than anything she had ever seen before. She was in awe. At first she would get lost trying to find her way to classes, but was guided by a new Puerto Rican friend and the school staff. She also told me that everything looked big to her in the US, from the size of the bottles of Ketchup to the roads and even the traffic lights!

She started taking ESL classes (English as a Second Language) and three years later she knew enough English to go to regular classes. Her last years of high school she got College Prep and Honors. Her mother had tears in her eyes as María told me about her experiences. “I also joined community service programs, Key Club and Best Buddies that helps kids with special needs.” “I wanted to get to know my community better and give back” she told me. “What’s next?” I asked her,” I want to be a physical therapist”, she said. “I like sports and want to help people and the scientific words for body parts comes from Latin, related to Spanish, so it helps me remember the words”

María told me she wanted to inspire others to follow their dreams. “It’s not easy to come to a new country, learn a new life, the language, and to adjust. You have to think positive and take advantage of your opportunities. And when that happens, make the most of it.” Congratulations Maria, another American dream come true.


Christina’s radio show, Tu Voz con Christina, is at 8 a.m. every Sunday on Pocono 96.7. Email:

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Passport to Poconos – Cross Country Road Trip

Part 2 -

Last week I told in my column how we flew to Arizona to drive back a car my husband bought for me. My goal in the last years has been: make the most of opportunities, in this case:  discover parts of America I might never see otherwise.

I ended the first part of the story as we turned onto I-70 and headed into Kansas. We drove for hours on a road that never seemed to curve. My husband kept saying, ¨Stop reading your Kindle and look out the window!” Before getting to Kansas City we stopped for the night in a little town. The streets were deserted on a Sunday evening. It felt like Sundays in Spain when people stayed home or in bars watching the soccer game. Finally we found a Chinese restaurant that was about to close but they took us in.

The next day was Kansas City. I loved the vibe; it is a huge city filled with hotels and convention centers along with a young, hip area in the old town section. Everything seemed built on a different, smaller scale than eastern cities like New York or Philadelphia.

Next was St. Louis, Missouri for a quick look at the great steel Gateway Arch. My husband insisted we take the ride to the top. “What? I didn’t know you could go up there.”  We waited in line. When it was our turn to enter the tiny elevator cabins, I panicked.  I am claustrophobic. Kind strangers encouraged me and helped me through the ride.

The view of St. Louis on the top was great, but more interesting to me was the museum at the base. It takes you back in time experiencing the settling of the West; the journey of the explorers, pioneers, cowboys and Native Americans. Each life-size figure explains their part in building America. For me, a new American, it was a great interactive way to learn history.

The last two days felt long. Approaching home we thought, “are we ever actually going to get there?” Georgina guided us, “At 500 feet turn left…” Georgina was the name we gave to the voice of the car´s GPS. She had been our faithful travel companion since Arizona and put up with our wrong turns without scolding us.

Those last days, I began to see how big my new country actually is. The variety of landscapes, people, cultures and food is something I never understood before, living in Europe. There each country has its culture, here it is all mixed in one big country. Although much of the trip was a blur of cheap motels and Egg Mac Muffins, I felt it was worth getting a glimpse in six and a half days. We arrived back in the Poconos driving up route 33 in the worst rainstorm I had ever experienced. Welcome home!


Christina’s radio show, Tu Voz con Christina, is at 8 a.m. every Sunday on Pocono 96.7. Email:


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Passport to Poconos – Discovering New Lands in the US

I thought the US was made up only of the cities I had seen so often in movies and on TV. Until one summer I visited Yosemite and everything changed. I realized the country included immense areas and natural wonders unknown in Europe.

Once I moved here, I vowed to discover a new part of my new country every year on my birthday. It was the only way to truly getting acquainted with my immense new country.

So every year I pick another state I want to visit, and make my husband arrange a trip as a birthday present.

But last year he gave me another present: a car. The only hitch was he bought it from a friend who worked at a dealership in Arizona. Could we really save money buying in Arizona? It was a favor to a friend, he explained, and was a good enough deal. He would just ship it back to Pennsylvania. People who change jobs do that all the time.

I saw it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to really see what is out there in the America between the coasts. So we took a few days off on our calendar, found a cheap flight to Phoenix, and started driving back.

The first thing that impressed me about the West was there was so much of it. This amount of uninhabited space almost made me dizzy.

We drove through fields of tall cactus plants like in cowboy movies. Even in May, the temperature was up above 90 degrees. We entered the Navajo territory between Arizona and Utah.

Once on the Navajo reservation, time jumped an hour later. Arizona is on standard time but the Navajo are on daylight time. Nobody could explain why.

In Monument Valley I felt like I was in another cowboy movie. This one didn’t have giant cactus, it has giant formations of rock that looked like towers and cathedrals. They were timeless and magnificent. I couldn’t help imagining John Wayne riding between them.

In the mountains of southern Colorado we hit a blizzard in a 12,000 foot mountain pass. From 90 degrees, to a foot of snow an hour later. This country was a galaxy away from planet Pocono.

Descending from the mountains we merged onto I-70 and Kansas. Every night was another budget motel, every day I was on Yelp searching for interesting places to eat. My husband called it a “road trip” and said it was an American tradition. I call it an amazing vision blurring by at 75 miles an hour. There are roads in Europe but no romance of the road. No road novels or road films. That is something uniquely American and you only feel here.


Christina´s radio show is every Sunday morning at 8:00 AM on Pocono 96.7. Tu Voz con Christina. Email:

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Passport to Poconos – Celebrating “La Verbena” in Spain

June midsummer night. Everyone everywhere celebrates. I am in Barcelona visiting my mother. Here midsummer night is called “la verbena de San Juan” (St. John’s Eve) and is one of the biggest, most raucous holidays in Spain. Firecrackers sound everywhere and bonfires light up the sky like the whole city is burning. Dogs and cats cover from the noise and smoke. It’s the eve of St John’s the Baptize birthday, six months before Jesus. Early Christians adapted it from pagan holidays before and brought along the tradition of fires and all night long festivals.

I remember some of these celebrations when I was younger. If you were smart and could afford it, you fled the city for these two days while every kid old enough to hold a match lit off endless firecrackers. My friend Rosa, an emergency coordinator for 911, says that every year kids get burned and get fingers blown off. This year she told me they had over 250 serious emergency calls. “We stop counting the calls for drunks” she says, “It’s thousands in a night like that”.

I wish the firecrackers were outlawed everywhere. What lunacy allows them to be banned for sale to Pennsylvanians but sold to out-of-staters? Is it okay for New Jersey and New York kids to get their fingers blown off?

If not for the explosives, la verbena could be a wonderful holiday in Barcelona. Everyone goes to the street at night and celebrates with music, cava (Catalan champagne), coca (a layered pastry typical for this holiday), and bonfires. An old friend told me that in past years, people would use the convenience of block party bonfires to throw away their old furniture.

Most people head to the beach for the biggest party of the year. No rock concert ever attracted as many people as this night on Barcelona’s beach.

This year I took my husband to the beach. At first he was in shock with all the noise of the firecrackers. “I feel we’re in the middle of Iraq,” he said. It was past midnight and people of every age and ethnicity, from teens to families, gathered around tents, sleeping bags, picnic boxes, and strollers. We passed a coffee shop with tables and chairs outside and a crowd of senior citizens dancing. Terraces were decorated with strings of confetti and balloons.

By morning the firecrackers had subsided. Barcelona slept late, like a midsummer version of New Year’s Day. We got up, took the train south, and joined friends at a small beach town that has a great restaurant specializing in rice dishes. While most people were recovering from ‘la verbena’ hangovers, we were having rice paella. Separated from a summer storm by big glass windows overlooking the beach. All the friendly waiters wore t-shirts saying, “Rice to Meet You.”

Christina’s radio show, Tu Voz con Christina, is at 8 a.m. every Sunday on Pocono 96.7. Email:


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Passport to Poconos – The King and I

America has never had a king so our celebrity scandals are limited to celebrities such as the Kardashians. But in Spain, we have the royals to give us breathless headlines.

Last week the King of Spain abdicated in favor of his son, Felipe. Felipe is mid-forties, good looking, and educated. By contrast, his father, Juan Carlos has been the subject of rumors about numerous affairs and a high life style. All this while the country was suffering from an economical crisis. Juan Carlos´s daughter, Cristina, is married to a man about to go on trail for larceny. So it may be a good time to step down.  It wasn’t always this way, which is why many people still respect the king.

I remember my father telling us about his childhood, when the Spanish Civil War started. The country was divided by opposing armies. Where you were when the war started was where you stayed until it ended. My grandmother had taken her young sons to visit her family in a village in Aragon, a region between Madrid and Barcelona. My grandfather stayed in Barcelona. Then family could not travel home for three years. My father and his family and everybody from that era suffered, both because of the enforced separations, and because of the lack of food. My father, like people from his generation, was obsessed by food. He always had to have a full fridge.

The winner of the war was General Franco, a dictator who governed the country as  “His Excellency the Head of State.” It lasted almost forty years. I remember how fearful everyone was about following the rules. When Franco died in 1975, he named his successor to be King Juan Carlos I, from the Bourbon dynasty.  But rather than continue like Franco, this king believed in democracy. With new freedoms, people went to the other extreme; nudity was introduced in magazine and movies. Freedom after all those years of oppression was a breath of fresh air.

Panic returned in 1981 when the military tried to take power again. The king saved democracy by coming on TV in his military uniform, showing he was the real commander, and announcing that he stood for democracy. So that is why people still love him.

But TV and social media now expose all the petty scandals and hidden lives of the royal family that could be kept secret before. I think the time of kings being brave leaders is over. In Spain, many people now are asking for a referendum so that they can decide if they want to continue with the Monarchy (whom we support with their taxes), or a Republic.

These thoughts make me appreciate how hard the framers of the US constitution worked to create our nation. Everybody worked hard to create this country. It’s not perfect, but we still need and want to believe in the American Dream.

Christina’s radio show, Tu Voz con Christina, is at 8 a.m. every Sunday on Pocono 96.7. Email:

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Passport to Poconos – Following your Dreams

Last month was graduation day at ESU. I had already received my diploma in the mail after I completed my BA degree last December.  I remember a comment made by a classmate:  “I’m about to graduate so now I’ll get paid more.” I wanted to ask him what made him think that, but I just looked at him and wished him good luck.

I remember, when I was younger, how it was to go through school and college, being in a safe, predictable world where I knew what was coming next. Then, one day you graduate and you’re left on your own to deal with the larger world.

In my early twenties in Spain, I studied Public Relations. My father wanted me to be a lawyer or study for a ‘prestigious’ profession. My mother wanted me to keep staying in college where I could meet the ‘right’ man; preferably a lawyer or a doctor. I always had a creative mind and wanted to be a writer and a journalist. But in high school I chose to enjoy myself and studying wasn’t part of that. I missed journalism school by half a point on the entrance exam.

After I graduated I found my own apartment, a job, and became independent. My mother was upset, “why do you want to leave home?” she asked. “Don’t we treat you well?”  In Latin countries the sense of family and of being together is very strong. Traditionally, girls were supposed to live at home until they married; many men did too. Now in Spain, many young people stay at home simply because they can’t afford to leave.

I didn’t go back to school until years later when I saw I had lost track of my dreams through many years in a corporate world. A world where, ultimately, I realized I didn’t belong. The last straw was a job at a New York TV station where I worked sixty hours a week and was replaced when the boss’s favorite needed a bigger budget for her new assistant.

That’s when I realized my passion for writing had followed me to the US and it was time to follow it. At first it took the form of emails to friends about my adventures in my new country. It wasn’t until I went back to college at ESU that I found the discipline to make writing and broadcasting my new career.

What I learned is: do what you need to do but don’t forget your dreams. Do what you must do to earn a living and get by, but don’t forget all your passions and your talents. When they day comes that you see the path to them, take it. If you feel excited it’s the right path!


Christina´s radio show with a Latin flavor is every Sunday morning at 8:00 AM on Pocono 96.7. Tu Voz con Christina. Email:

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Passport to Poconos – Un Road House con Sabor a USA

La semana pasada viví mi primera experiencia en un lugar de comidas nuevo, al menos para mí.

Mi esposo me dice que estos lugares se encuentran por lo general en las carreteras, lejos de los pueblos y típicamente sirven cócteles y un menú limitado. Se llaman “roadhouses”, En España no tenemos nada que se parezca. Por lo general, los restaurantes y bares se encuentran cerca del centro de la ciudad. No hay nada como esas luces que te dan la bienvenida en el medio de la noche en carreteras sinuosas. A veces sus carteles titilan con bulbos de luces pequeños que se mueven y sus ventanas siempre lucen brillantes pero misteriosas. Los lugareños conocen bien estos lugares pero los extraños raramente paran.

En España, recuerdo haberlos visto en películas americanas.  Son esos lugares donde Humphrey Bogart conoce la chica o donde Marlon Brando estaciona su Harley.

“Tenemos que ir, tienen una pizza sensacional y tragos baratos” nos dice nuestra amiga Karen. Lo revisé en línea y me di cuenta que tenemos que ir a cenar temprano para llegar a tiempo y comer antes de que cierren.

El lugar se parecía exactamente a una cabaña rústica de los tiempos de pioneros y era muy viva. Había dos personas tocando música de los años 60 en vivo y una pizarra al final de la habitación donde tenías que escribir tu nombre y número personas para una reservación. Nuestro grupo se pudo entremeter en el bar y escuchar la música mientras esperábamos que nos llamen.

Finalmente, alguien gritó nuestro nombre por encima de la música y nos sentamos. El ambiente del bar era tan alegre con la música y todos conversando que no estaba segura si quería pasar al comedor. Estaba decorado con luces de Navidad, las cuales dejaban todo el año, era lo suficientemente tranquilo para hablar e incluso más cálido y amigable que en el bar.

Nuestra mesera tenía una actitud amigable como si nos conociera por años. “La pizza es nuestra especialidad” nos dijo y “por un dólar adicional, pueden ordenar un tamaño más grande” agregó. Sobre el mantel de papel puso los platos de plástico, los cuales habían sido usados tanto tiempo que hizo que los diseños se borraran. Repartimos los platos eligiendo aquellos que tenían el “dibujo borroso” favorito. Fue parte de la diversión. Cuando vino la pizza, la cortamos y la comimos con las manos.

Pienso que estaba más rica así o quizás fue la espontaneidad de toda la experiencia. Nunca viví algo así en España o New York. Fue una experiencia divertida y casual con buena pizza y gente amistosa. No veo las horas de llevar a mis amigos de España, cuando vengan a visitarme. Estoy segura de que ellos sentirán que esto es una experiencia americana real. “The roadhouse”, hecha en los Estados Unidos!

El show de radio de Christina con sabor latino se transmite todos los domingos a las 8:00 A.M por Pocono 96.7. Tu Voz con Christina. Correo electrónico:


Traducción por Celia Elizabelar:








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    Christina Luna Zabih

    Christina comes from a background in public relations and sales in Barcelona, Spain. She immigrated to New York and quickly became a segment producer at Telemundo TV– covering local events in the Hispanic community for the daily morning magazine ... Read Full
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