How I became imperfectly Mexican


When I was little, I had always seen Mexico as a sacred display of ancestry. Enriched in its earthly mounds of pueblos and barrios, roots going as far back as the colonial era would form into abstract shapes and undefined histories. On Sierra de Morones, where my Abuelita learned to knit both hearts and clothes, lived and thrived the calligraphy of generations. Inside the dilapidating church walls of la Iglesia Basilica dressed stories of strength, adversity, hope and sacrifice. 

I believed that Mexico wrote the calligraphy of my genes, animated my blood with mystery, and wonderfully captivated my heart. It became, out of perception and imagination, my Mecca, which I’m still in exploration for today. 

It wasn’t until I was 10 that I actually stepped onto Mexican land for the first time. I remember the sun was an unfamiliar yellow and the quiet of the rural towns was bombarding and loud. In the horizon, a pair of identical mountains protruded from the sky, boringly. The buildings were indecipherable, and the streets were filled with the chatter of women as they prepared for the day’s work. Amongst permanence and sureness, I felt wavering and unsure – feelings that I still experience. 

My expectation was that Mexico would bathe me in its history and reconnect me with my long-lost roots, that it would provide me with immediate revelation; decorate my flesh with the stories of my lost history; and it would adorn and reawaken my Mexican blood, which laid rusting. I wanted reconciliation and completion in my identity, and I believed that Mexico would provide that. 

The day my family and I got to Mexico, we had our first family reunion party. Everyone was dressed in vivaciously lit smiles as they glided in a salsa. The mariachi gorgeously bombarded notes to La Bamba, braiding both soft and harsh notes. My aunts and uncles were strangers. The food was new and out of the bounds of my palate. There was a very cohesive sea of brown faces, all harmoniously singing, eating and dancing. While the party unfolded, my mom, my two siblings and I watched from the corner. We were like tourists of our own family. 

I remember at one point a group of new strangers, who my dad introduced as my cousins, began talking to us. They seemed innocently curious about us – as if we were a new species. 

I was embarrassed speaking to them in my broken and scrambled pieces of Spanish, which was the only language they knew. It would reveal my whiteness and make me a sham. For most of the conversation, I opted to silence because it hid me better. 

“Estas Mexicana? ” the little girl across from me asked. “Are you Mexican?” 

I was programmed and taught by my dad to always say I was – to take pride in my heritage. But suddenly at that moment, I wasn’t sure.  They were all a part of a melting pot of culture, and breathed Mexican tradition. In trying to relate to them, I found myself more dissociated than “at home.” Perhaps it is because I’ve been painted white and sold to an American lifestyle, that has made me unable to ever profoundly know what the “Mexican experience” is. Or the fact that I don’t come from a family that makes chilaquiles, and thrives off of rice and beans and celebrates birthday parties with pinatas. Or perhaps if I spoke Spanish better, it would make me more Mexican. 

As much as I wanted to assimilate myself into the culture and create a new native tongue, I realized that I wouldn’t hear salsa and Baracha music the same way, or religiously and passionately eat the way they did, or be able to talk with the same slang, without thinking about whether to conjugate a verb using preterite or imperfect. 

We were, inevitably, and as a result of the environment, a world apart, and I didn’t yet know whether to accept it as a truth, or try to reteach and re-sculpt myself on how to be “Mexican.” 

What I quickly realized from the trip and in my effort to fit in, was that being Mexican is a cultural, environmental and language phenomenon, not a guaranteed status through blood. 

Maribel, the cousin I had been talking to, did not see me as Mexican, but as the daughter of a white mom and a whitewashed dad. 

Can I blame her? 

I live shielded by a white-picket fence and perfectly groomed lawn. Instead of celebrating Dia de los Reyes, La Candelaria and Dia de los Muertos, we celebrate Santa Claus and the American version of Christmas. Instead of eating pozole and arroz y frijoles, I eat the vegetarian version of my mom’s homemade chili (which I still love, by the way). My life and hers are paradoxical, disparate and antithetical. 

Even in my Spanish community at high school, this was obvious amongst me and my Mexican friends, where our arguments on my status of being Mexican are in constant question. 

There’s one random day that sticks out to me. My Spanish teacher had asked what home remedies we had when we were sick. All of the Mexicans in the room, which was a good handful, had talked about their moms giving them 7 Up, or telling them to wear double socks, or not to not take a shower.

I felt this intense need, as a Mexican, to also experience that, but because I hadn’t, I felt a void. I couldn’t relate to any of their household traditions, but I still made an effort to pretend – to perform like a Mexican, because that’s what I believed I was. 

Is that void fixable? 

My Mexican friends will tell me I’m whitewashed. And admittedly, I know that’s true. I don’t do the things, speak the culture, or understand the holidays, because it’s not a part of my life. And yet, because it’s in my blood, I’m obligated to respect and understand myself as a Mexican. 

Do you feel that way too? Is this a problem that is beyond you and I? 

Alas, I may never be Mexican enough. My Mexican blood is going extinct. I can feel it. And it hurts to know that I don’t know how to save it.