Friday, September 11, 2009

The Beauty of being a Mexican.

Life is like a piñata (Mercado de la Cruz, Queretaro).

We're back from Mexico! Mexico! Mexico! and even after two weeks of settling back in to the quiet, predictable and very autumnal life here in London, I'm not quite ready to relinquish the feeling of aestival, gluttonous enjoyment I experienced while back in the land of my birth for the first time in four years.

Four years. An interesting number. Namely because I was about that age when I left the world of Nopales, Limones, Piñatas, Aguacates and Papaya - nearly 25 years ago now. For me, Mexico has always and always will be intrinsically linked with vivid, synesthetic memories of food and gaiety - friendly family meals and get-togethers void of that stereotypically WASP-y awkwardness and forced propriety I've had to adjust to on many an occasion at friend's houses or other family's houses in my life living as an American.

Awkward to say it - "Living As An American." I am American. I have the Passport and lack of accent to prove it and so many of my friends who know I was "technically born in Mexico" often say to me (as if this should make me feel proud): "You're not Mexican!" "You're not Latin!" Mexican is, after all, kind of a dirty word to most people, it seems.

Also, I guess to them the transformation is just that complete - and I must admit that sometimes it is to me as well. And yet, something inside me simply cringes at their "kind" disassociation of me with the dark-skinned delivery boys on bikes in NYC, or the desperate illegals crossing the Rio Grande, or the short, fat, black-haired kid in English class who brings tortillas with his lunch and speaks Spanglish. I can't say it is really entirely flattering or a point of pride for me; in fact, it flat-out bothers me. I am - shockingly enough, to some - as Mexican as all of them.

But I always forget why this bothers me until I go back to Mexico. Until I see my family, see my country, eat the food, and smell the air. It's like breathing in the smell of your childhood
blanket. An oddly familiar, oddly comforting sensation that leaves you feeling like you've reconnected with a part of yourself you thought was forever lost. And it's a joy. A joy I get every single time I go back to my country - well, my first country -, even after all this time.

I've complained, preached and even ranted on many an occasion to the proverbial choir (my husband and family) and every other person who will listen (maybe I should grab a soap box and hang at Hyde Corner? :)) about unfair prejudices, racism and stereotypes I've encountered and proven wrong. I've made it my goal to "show them by example" as my mother always told me was my responsibility as an immigrant, and in my own way, I've had success. But it's difficult to live in one country, have grown up in another, and been born in still another - your identity becomes something like a piñata. Every time life hits you with something, you're not quite sure what will come out of you in return: candy, fruit, confetti or rotten nuts. :) I suppose sometimes the confusion and bittersweet nostalgia that comes with being different is one of the loveliest treats - however unpredictable it makes it - in life. I'm glad to be able to some day share it with Romanorum Master Forum.

Here are some images from our recent trip that, to me, encapsulate just a tiny speckle of the beauty that is being a Mexican - yes, a Mexican. :)

Aguas Frescas: Mango, Jamaica y Limon

Buganvileas, everywhere

unapologetic Catholicism

breathtaking, human-scaled architecture

fresh produce & amazing markets as far as the eye can see

unabashed color

fresh corn tortillas on every corner

fresh fruit paletas made with real fruit

a zillion chiles, for flavor not just heat

taco stands - cheap and delicious every time

a certain aesthetic that I just love

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  1. How great that you went back to visit your birth country, sounds like it was very nice and I love your pictures! I've always wondered what it would feel like to go back to my birth country (ukraine, I haven't been there since I left, almost 20 years).

  2. Empathy, empathy, empathy! I returned to my birthplace, the Philippines, last year - the first time in 18 years (the only other visit before then was 14 years after we first left). Being completely acculturated, I've also been told I'm 'different' from other (more recent) Asian immigrants. It amused me more than offended me - until the past few years, when I've become more aware of my heritage. Why so? Perhaps it's because our most recent homes have been in areas with very few Asian, much less Filipino, populations. As something of a novelty (an obviously 'other' person who speaks & dresses like the 'self') I've been treated with attitudes ranging from patronizing acceptance to outright disdain. That's been hard to swallow given that I'm about as 'American' as one who was actually born here can be. Thankfully, my friends and family (including my in-laws) know me the best!

    Judging by your photos, your visit back to Mexico was a marvelous homecoming. And I'm sure Roman was the star of your entourage! 8-D Welcome back!