I am born of a Mexican mother and a Peruvian father, both first generation immigrants to the United States in the early 70’s.
I must have been a honeymoon baby because exactly 9 months following their April 14, 1972 wedding, my mom was holding her firstborn daughter Maria in her arms in a maternity ward in Gardena, California on January 10, 1973. Of course, my Abuelita Maria of Mexicali, Baja California rushed across the border in a Greyhound bus to be able to hold her sweet new grand-daughter (me!).
Now although my mom did learn English (and all on her own without having ever followed a single course!), the early years were filled mostly with Spanish and I still have memories of a time when I spoke only Spanish and only dreamt of speaking the wonderfully mysterious English! Indeed, although we lived on U.S. soil, the cultural context of our early formative years must have ressembled a conglomerate Latin America more than the United States!
My parents did all they could to preserve their respective cultures, but also to help us blend in. Bless my mom’s heart, how could she have known as she packed our sack lunches that our aluminum-foil-wrapped bean burritos would earn us mocks and snobbish stares from our bologna sandwich endowed contemporaries?
Our new American culture dictated the absolute necessity of a bed and a bedroom for each child (which we had), but it was not uncommon to find all of us children huddled on the floor, sleeping on blankets and pillows around Mom and Dad’s bed, vestiges of humbler times in a not-so-distant culture. Nightly vigils during the Mexican posada were promptly replaced by the presents Santa left under the tree on Christmas Eve, but our Mom would labor for hours to make sure dozens of homemade tamales in corn husks were served side-by-side our Christmas turkey and ham. A rug made of llama skins adorning the wall above our American sofa and a Peruvian Tumi sitting in my Mom’s fancy china cabinet, sat as silent yet bold evidences of my father’s South American heritage.
And once my parents’ immigration papers were all in order, all seven of us siblings would pile into the back of my Dad’s Ford truck with a camper shell, to make the four hour drive from Rancho Cucamonga in Southern California to Mexicali, Baja California right across the border into Mexico. We would cross the border with gleeful delight and visit Abuelita Maria, Abuelito Nico and our Mexican aunts and uncles and cousins. Never mind that our Spanish was terrible, we could understand enough to play with our cousins and it never stopped us from enjoying churritos con chile y limon or our favorite spicy tamarind candy – the vintage Pelon Pelo Rico!
But ask me about Mexican history and I’ll tell you I celebrated Cinco de Mayo every May 5th in California without a clue of its historical significance (or insignificance for Mexico) and with absolute disregard for the Grito de Dolores on September 16, the true Mexican Independence Day. And ask me if I’ve visited the ancient Incan ruins of my dad’s beloved Peru and I will sadly tell you I’ve yet to see Machu Pichu and the sacred land of his heritage. If you want me to tell you about Mexico or Peru, their geography, their politics, their regional accents and typical foods, I’m afraid that for the time being, I can do little more than disappoint! (Note to self: I must read more books. I must travel.)
Today in my hometown of Magny-les-Hameaux I have friends who are Mexican (Cyntia and Zitlaly). Increase the geographical circumference (beyond my little hometown) and you’ll find that France is filled with Hispanic citizens like Itzel & Daniel with their children Denise and Iban, but also Jessica, Pierina, Jakeline and so many more! To each I am drawn by a special je ne sais quoi, a powerful undercurrent of cultural commonality and yet I realize that by my American upbringing we are also worlds apart!
Growing up in California, I had such trouble fitting in. Always feeling like the odd one, never able to fully grasp all the cultural codes of my mother land! Set apart by my cultural heritage that I would in time learn to appreciate, in my formative years I always felt it created an impossible abyss of difference with my American contemporaries. Time and special experiences would allow me to become fluent in Spanish and proud of my rich heritage, but today I find myself in a much different place! I married a Frenchman and we are raising our four trilingual children in France!
When I look at my four children, I am awestruck that they are 1/2 French, but nonetheless amazed that they also share my American nationality and my Mexican and Peruvian ethnicity! They’ve got blood running through their veins that is French, Mexican and Peruvian! And yes, they speak Spanish, but sometimes I wonder… Will taco night and watching the Disney telenovela Violetta suffice to make them Hispanic by culture? Watered down Hispanics, what do you think?
And yet, just like me, my children feel this special je ne sais quoi, this cultural undercurrent that draws them to Latinos and to so many things Hispanic: like tacos and Violetta the teen star, but also a keen interest in the geography of Central and South America, an affinity for the language by my girls, an eager desire to eat the hottest chili peppers on the planet (that would be my eldest son), and above all a special love for their Abuelita from Mexico and their Abuelito from Peru!
Are my children watered-down Hispanics? Is the blood that runs in their veins enough to make them Hispanics? And what remains of the Hispanic culture in their upbringing today? Is it worth it to continue? 100% YES, I say! Watered down or not, I cannot let this Hispanic heritage die! Up to me to do my research and to make their Hispanic Heritage a little bit more a part of their everyday lives.
P.S. Yesterday was Cinco de Mayo and in honor of, I made a huge pot of pinto beans in my crock pot that we ate with carne asada, avocados and tortilla chips. And I told my children about how proud they should be of their heritage (French, Peruvian, Mexican and American) and I explained to them why Cinco de Mayo is truly an important day for us. I didn’t get it before, but the little blurb by Sasha Martin in her article about Mexican grilled pizza, helped it click for me. (It’s about a third of the way down the page in a section entitled What’s the story with Cinco de Mayo?) Go read it! And while you’re at it, go drool over her pictures of Tlayuda – a real Mexican pizza!
Note: This post first appeared on Busy as a Bee in Paris. I am reposting it here for the May issue of the Multicultural Kid Blogs blogging carnival. The theme is "Where are you from?" and will be hosted by Stephen at Head of the Heard. (I will include the link as soon as the carnival goes live.)