Today I woke up in Mexico. I am spending a month with my mother's family in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. The last time I spent this much time with my family was as a child when my mom would bring me to spend a couple of months at a time. This was a time when I drank cold coke in a bottle, ate steaming hot tortillas fresh from the machine, when my toys were metal bottle caps, bits of leaves, and a pink plastic tea-set. This was when I began to form my ear and tongue to understand and speak the sounds, cadence and rhythm of the Spanish language (which I have unfortunatley not yet perfected as of yet). This was a time that I began to learn what it meant to be Mexican.
This was a precious time for me especially because I grew up as a native English speaker in the United States. As a result I developed a kind of romantic nostalgia for Mexican culture for which I only had brief experiences of. I didn't grow up speaking Spanish in the home and my mom only cooked tacos and beans once in a while. And yet, as a child I strongly identified as Mexican. Anytime I filled out a form asking for my racial identity I was always Mexican first, White/Caucasian second. But as an adult this identity has come into doubt. I feel guilty for claiming Mexican, as though my experiences as a native English speaker and native to the culture of the United States erases my roots and experiences.
As an adult I have to come to understand and witness much cruelty against Mexican immigrants and their children. I feel ashamed because the same culture in which which I navigate with ease is the same that instigates oppression and hate towards Mexicans in our country. This shame makes me feel like I am not good enough to consider myself Mexican, however I am beginning to realize that these thoughts are no better than racism since there are good and bad people in every culture AND because there are reasons why immigrants have decided to live and some to stay in the United States and continuing this line of thinking I completely discount that.
This being said, I have been holding onto the strings that tie me to my origins and I am ready to follow them as far as they'll take me and to accept my Mexican identity in whatever form it takes or in whatever form I make it in.
Mostly I am on this trip to learn. Like many things, what I will learn will be a mystery until after I've learned it, but I have questions. Lots of questions. Questions about my mother's childhood, her family, our ancestors, and the history and culture of the city where she was born, lived and left. And then there is the question of divergent lives, the one I might have had if she had stayed in Monterrey.
And since I only have questions to ask this is where I will start.
Some basic questions:
- What was my mother's life like growing up in Monterrey? What is her story?
- What would my life have been like if we had stayed in Monterrey? What would have been my story?
- Who are our ancestors? What is their story?
- What does it mean to be Mexican? Is there a common story that all Mexican share?
My tools and resources:
- A list of questions
- My camera
- My iPhone with camera and recording capabilities
- A sketchbook
- Colored Pencils
- My memories
- My imperfect Spanish
- A desire for connection
- My beautiful family