Friday, May 06, 2005

Yo soy una Mexicana... sort of

I've always had a penchant for the exotic - my tastes tend to lean more toward those things different and foreign from me. I love the bright colors of the Indian saris & textiles. I am enamored of Greek architecture. I love the formal rituals of the Japanese meals. One of my favorite movie scenes is found in "Fools Rush In, " where Matthew Perry comes home to find his previously neutrally decorated home transformed into a colorful homage to hispanic culture (by Salma Hayek, no less).

Maybe this affection for all things bright and beautiful comes from my mixed heritage. My father is Mexican, although raised in the US. His father, hell-bent on American-izing his children and assimilating into their neighborhood, refused to let them speak Spanish in the home. His knowledge of the language remained neglected until his children were born. He taught my brothers and me the alphabet, the names of body parts ("Where's your ojos?") and short phrases. He was still able to understand conversational Spanish, but most of the time, responded in English. My mother is blend of English, German and other predominantly white, Anglo, European countries. She speaks no Spanish (although she is a great cocinera thanks to my dad).

Because of my looks (and because I live close to the Mexico/California border) I am frequently asked about my heritage. When I admit I am of latin descent, the question inevitably arises, "Habla Espanol?" Quickly followed by, "Well, why not??"

It's not that I don't want to - in fact, I was fascinated by the language and took several classes in high school and college. Only recently though, have I conjured up the cajones to try and converse in this foreign tongue. I have always wanted to be a part of this... to feel like I belong to this culture. Instead, I have always felt like the "gringa" or "guera"... the outsider. On forms where you fill in the bubble next to your ethnicity, I fill in Latino/Chicano. (Sorry, Mom.) I listen to the Mexican radio stations (Spanish Rock, natch) even though I don't understand 3/4 of the lyrics. I long for customs & traditions, stories of old pueblas and the old ways of my bisabuela and her family. Will I ever feel like I fit in that world? Why is this particular desire so strong?

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