There is an ignorance I miss. I really just traded it for a different type of ignorance. I went through the time in life most go through. Who am I? Why are we here? Why am I here? I understand that we will each find our own meaning and definition and that it’s ever evolving. During the time of young searching, I wondered what it meant to be Mexican and American at the same time. I can’t say Mexican American in front of some of my family unless I want to have fun. They ask, isn’t Mexico one of the America’s? Does United States have a monopoly on the use of “America.” Depending on the day, I will drag it out or quickly agree.
The same conversations and pushes come up with others about what to call ourselves or others. It’s insane but I imagine necessary. I am a human but when I fill out employment applications or even the forms to enroll children in schools, that’s not one of the boxes offered to check for self identification. I personally call myself Mexican. I don’t feel that this takes anything away from the country I grew up in and love. Truth be told, I have never crossed the border in my life. I was born here. I don’t like the term Mexican American–not because of the combative but intelligent family member either. It’s the Cheech and Chong song that killed it for me. I can’t hear or say the term without starting the endless play of the song in my head. Seriously. I don’t have such a clear cut explanations for chicano or latina. I am not one of those people who can tell you about the roots of my people beyond my abuelita y bisabuela. I didn’t know that Cinco de Mayo wasn’t really celebrated that much in Mexico or why some think it’s a hidden self hatred to not embrace a label deemed politically correct. I learned about the bracero program in school even though some family lived it. It wasn’t a story they cared to tell. It didn’t define them. The other stories they shared did. The reverence they had for a mother, the appreciation of life and tales of undying spirit. I define me– well me with some help from Cheech. I’ll be singing that song all day now.
My father was straight from the rancho. My mother’s family had crossed over a generation before and identified more with the Tejano identity. I grew up and married someone straight from the rancho. I don’t know how to make flour tortillas, my Spanish was a hot mess until recently and some of my kids didn’t refine their Spanish until they completed the classes in high school. We eat posole for Thanksgiving and we choose boxing over UFC– most of the time. When I wanted to know what it really meant to be Mexican I went to the place I went for everything else. The library. My inquiries led me to Oscar Lewis. I was concerned because I didn’t know what pulque was because it seemed integral to the identity according to the Sanchez family. I thank Oscar and now appreciate his work for more than just that first glimpse into what one Mexican family looked like. It helped me find my own answer. I stopped searching for the unknown because it was just me. I know what I am.