Most of the children in our town, South Pasadena (idyllic, but a little too The Truman Show for me), attend public schools (they're great and people flock here in droves for that reason). But Christina and her older brother attend a private Catholic school in Highland Park, which is mostly Hispanic as far as ethnicity goes. During a recent evening, I was making conversation and asked her what she was having for dinner. She told me they were having taquitos. She made a face and said she didn't like Mexican food. She proceeded to tell me that she's not Mexican. "My mom and dad are Mexican, but I'm not. I'm American," she said.
I was fascinated and saddened by this. Fascinated because she's found a way in her mind to not be Mexican even though her parents are. Saddened because she doesn't want to be Mexican even though she is. Then I remembered being in grade school and high school and telling people that I was half Spanish instead of half Mexican. I can't remember why exactly I felt the need to do this. Maybe because some of the white kids sometimes made comments about the Mexican kids. Maybe because in high school, Mexican kids were bussed in from East L.A. and many of them didn't speak any English and so they kept to themselves and existed in their own world within our high school. And maybe I didn't want to seem as other worldly as they did to some of the other kids.
I also remembered asking my mother when I was older why she never talked much about being Mexican or made Mexican food or spoke Spanish with us. She said that it was because growing up Mexican here in Southern California was a very hard life for her and her family and she wanted better or more for us. They had very little money (my grandfather was a mechanic, who also worked in fields or on farms picking produce). She remembered not having enough money to go to college (her tuition was eventually gifted to her by a family friend). She remembered her father drinking too much to forget not having enough money--and feeling so marginalized that he couldn't feel much happiness a lot of the time. His heaviness wore on my grandmother and their six children. So when my mother left her parents' house, I guess she decided she would be something else.
While growing up, I kind of forgot I was Mexican until I would go to my grandparents' house (where we went often). On weekends, my siblings and I would travel to Mexico with them for fun. My grandmother spoke Spanish and only cooked Mexican food. We even killed, cooked and ate chickens for dinner in their backyard. We picked oranges with my grandfather and swam in the neighboring canals. But I never told any of my friends this when I came home.
Now that my mother is not alive anymore, I'm trying my hardest to remember those days. To remember my grandparents and know where she came from and more of who she was before I came along. I'm telling anyone who will listen as much as I can all about her so I can keep her as close to me as possible. I tell them she was Mexican and that I am, too. It's funny: In some way, she was trying to forget and now that she's gone, I'm trying to remember. I wonder if some day, our little neighbor, Christina, will be trying to remember instead of trying to forget.
|Images from Behance|