“Said it ain’t where ya from, it’s where ya at.” — Mos Def, Habitat
A year ago, I took my first trip to Mexico (not including Baja California) in about 13 years. There were plenty of reasons I had not gone back to Zacatecas or Guanajuato, but the primary one is that there wasn’t a great need to since most of my family on both sides of the family is here.
I took the trip by myself, but I was with family in each location I visited. I was never really alone. Prior to leaving, I didn’t feel too connected to Mexico. I also did not feel comfortable calling myself a Mexican. For at least 5 years before — or my entire adult life — I was just a Chicana, but that’s changed a bit.
Gustavo articulated what I feel in the comments on his post The Undesirables which was an extension of Elenamary’s post entitled I don’t like Chicanos.
Mexicanos that are raised here in the states live a completely different existence than those that live in the mother country. I have pride in my culture and to be honest with you I tend to call myself Chicano most of the time… I could care less what they think of me because no matter how much I claim to be Mexican I was not born there, I was not raised there… I have not lived the same experiences as those that live over there. I visit often but that doesn’t all of a sudden make me a Mexicano. That is why I consider myself Chicano because no matter what you have been influenced in your social/political outlook by living in the U.S. and being of Mexican descent.
Like Gustavo, I find it tough to identify as a Mexicana (despite the t-shirts) and prefer to call myself a Chicana.
A primary reason for this is that I’ve spent all my life in Los Angeles County. I was born in Monterey Park and from when my parents brought me home from the hospital to when I left for college I lived in a house in Hacienda Heights. When I moved out, I was still nearby, just in Los Angeles.
I never lived in Mexico nor did I spend more than a few weeks there. My family has never been one of those families that go back annually. My parents immigrated as children with their immediate families. All of my mom and dad’s siblings (minus one tía) live in the United States. Although my mom has a lot of cousins living in Southern California, most of my dad’s cousins lived in Guanajuato. Even though we wouldn’t go back to Guanajuato, we’d still see that side of the family fairly often because my aunts and uncles travel here frequently (I think it’s easier for them to get visas because my tía abuela Tomasa is a US citizen).
I speak Spanish, but always feel self-conscious about it when I’m around my tías y tíos and cousins who only speak Spanish. I don’t mind being called a pocha or even tripping up over words every once in a while.
I never deny my roots. I’m proud and well aware of where my parents are from and the struggles my grandparents went through to get their families here. Yet despite all of this, I still feel more comfortable answering Hacienda Heights or LA when people ask me where I’m from. I feel much more strongly connected to this area than to the places where my parents and grandparents were born and lived.
Growing up in the states makes me different and offers me some advantages that set me apart from my cousins back in Salamanca. I don’t have to worry about crossing the border because I’m a US Citizen. I don’t have to worry whether or not I’ll be able to go to college because I’m not a legal permanent resident or citizen. I don’t really have to think about leaving my family and country primarily for employment, nor do I have to put my life in danger by doing so. Some Mexicanos and Mexicanas go through that, I don’t.
If my family would have stayed in Mexico, I’m sure our lives would be different. I wouldn’t exist since I doubt my parents would have met each other being hundreds of miles apart. My father probably would not have had a white collar job. I doubt we would have been poor since both sides were middle class and owned land.
I love my culture. I’ve taken plenty of opportunities to learn more both formally and informally. Like Gustavo, I took Mexican literature and history courses in college. I took many more courses on Chicanos and other Latinos in the US than on issues in the motherland. And yes, Mexico is my motherland. I feel more strongly connected after being there last summer. I wrote the following a few weeks afterward. Though the feeling has subsided, I still can’t wait to go back in December.
Los Angeles has always been my home. I feel connected to it. My family is here, most of my friends are here. Most of the areas are familiar to me.
But, since I’ve returned from Mexico (19 days ago… damn!) I’ve felt distant from my city. I don’t know if this is where I belong or if this is where I want to be. I miss Mexico a lot more than I missed LA. I miss almost everything about it except the super crowded metro, the honking and the smog.
I’ve never felt so comfortable in a place that is supposed to be so foreign. I want to go back. Tomorrow, in October, whenever. I don’t want to wait another 13 years before I make such a trip. Twenty-three days won’t be sufficient. Maybe I’ll need 23 months or 23 weeks.
I want to feel like I’m home. Right now, I’m in the only house I’ve ever lived in. That’s more than 24 years (well, I stay more at my apartment these days). Still, I feel like something is missing, and I don’t know how to get it back.
Now I’m more apt to say I’m a Chicana with roots in Mexico since to me being a Chicana/o doesn’t necessarily mean I have Mexican origins. Mexico is still the motherland for me. I know that’s where I came from. I felt at home there, loved it, and missed it. I know part of that feeling must come from my family’s connection to it. However, I’m much more connected to LA.
My home is here. I’m from LA. Soy Chicana, ¿y qué?