I used to like to say “I never knew I was Mexican until I left my small community.” It’s true, I never knew it would be an issue until I left the confines of my small ranching community which is predominately Mexican American. I spoke English, understood Spanish. I listened to Conjunto music as well as our local pop and hip hop station. My customs and traditions were not as prevalent in my household after my grandparents died.
I am a third generation Mexican American even further removed from the old traditional ways as they come. I am a ranching girl not a big city girls like those who live in Laredo, Corpus Christi, or even San Antonio.
My home was the cluttered brush and mesquite littered acres in Falfurrias and San Diego, TX. A stronghold of the original Vaquero community but at eighteen all I wanted was to run away from the sprawling acreage and lone blinking lights. I wanted to forget who I was and be someone new. It wasn’t until I moved to the Rio Grande Valley to attend the University of Texas Pan American did I realize the uniqueness of my upbringing.
‘Not Mexican Enough’
It was there among fair skinned beauties, among the smoothness of the Spanish around me, among the questioning glares of “How dare you forget who you are?”, that I realized I had assimilated. I had turned my back on who my grandparents were, on who my father’s parents were, and more importantly on who I was.
My dark brown skinned cornered me into facing myself for the first time. Even if I never learned Spanish and no matter how I said my name, I would always be Mexican. A dark Mexican at that, not the tanned beauties who are on the Telanovelas and in Hollywood,I would be referred to often as India Maria, my indigenous roots betraying me as I tried to fake my way into mainstream normality.
In the Valley, I was ‘too American’. I immersed myself in my own heritage and culture creating a new and improved me. I read Mexican American literature and participated in a number or ethnic studies classes to learn about the great contributions that we have given. I was finally content with myself, with my culture, and suddenly a deep sadness that I had never been able to write down my family traditions. The nights of making tamales, cabrito, and working the land are distant shadows of memories which are hard to reach with each passing day.
Armed with my newfound courage, I moved home back to the Coastal Bend. Instantly, a new term slapped me in my face. “ Wow, you are so Mexican.”
Too Mexican, not Mexican enough. It is a straddled line which neither side is ever fully satisfied. Today, I realize that assimilation has created shame in me. It has shamed me to forget that my ancestors are Mexica Indians and Spanish landholders. Tiny words which burn like the Texas sun on bare skin.
My color was a symbol, you see. It is a symbol of poverty, of indignious roots, of not being American enough. Color in the Hispanic community is a symbol of your worth. I refuse to give into that notion. My husband is black which was instantly murmured about. “Your kids will be dark” I was once told.
So, I’m dark. My hubby’s dark. My kids are dark. The creamy beige skin of their heritage will not be shamed. They will not be forced to stay indoors for fear of being Prieto (dark). They will never be called Feos because they are dark. I will not allow them to feel sadness about their beauty.
Today, being Mexican for me is never forgetting where I came from. I will never forget the sprawling cacti and bending limbs of the mesquite trees in front of a clear night sky. I will show my children what it is to be Mexican and to be Black.
What I have learned is, I need to be Jessica. I hope my kids will learn that they need to be themselves. Whatever the culture, whatever the outcome, whoever they want to be.