This weekend I was binge watching reruns of No Reservations and The Layover, shows that Anthony Bourdain use to host. I was tired of all the scary movies and thrillers and decided I’d watch something different. I loved Anthony Bourdain, he had a sort of “I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks” kind of attitude and in the back of my mind he was my ideal man. In any case I was watching an episode of his from the Layover and he said something that got me thinking. He was talking about how English food really isn’t English anymore because of all the cultural influences that have come about due to all the immigrants that have settled in England. He mentioned that the national dish is chicken tikka masala.
Now I don’t know if that’s true but, what got me thinking is how Mexican am I since I’m not from Mexico? Everyone that lives on the border has to think about this at one point in their lives or another. In another episode he was in Cologne Germany talking to a woman who was born in Cologne but whose parents were Turkish immigrants. She mentioned that she was born German, but growing up with Turkish born parents she felt more Turkish as a child than German. Because she was exposed to nothing but Turkish ideals, language, food and traditions at home, then when she went off to university she said she was exposed to everything German. Anthony Bourdain asked her how she felt about herself now, as an adult. She answered that she’s German with Turkish ancestry and that’s because, as she explained, now she’s old enough to glean all the positive aspects from both cultures.
So I began to contemplate this myself, exactly how Mexican am I, if I wasn’t born in Mexico? Well that’s easy, I’m not Mexican because I’m an American of Mexican decent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know of my Mexican heritage or deny it either. But it wasn’t always that way because growing up all I ever heard of Mexican’s was that they were lazy, didn’t want to do anything but come to America and take advantage of our benefits and such. Yes, you heard that right, I grew up hearing this and guess from whom? My very own parents who were first generation Mexican-Americans. Now, as I think back I’m ashamed and angry at my parents’ very close-minded and backward, not to mention prejudice way of thinking. As I got older I began to find that my mom’s parents didn’t speak Spanish to her as a child. They told her that she had to speak English only, because this was America and she had to speak the way American’s did. My mom and dad both told me that as kids going to school their teachers would reprimand them if they spoke Spanish in school, going as far as hitting them on the knuckles with a ruler if students spoke Spanish to each other even at lunch or on the playground.
I slowly began to realize how their prejudicial thinking was born, but as adults they perpetuated this thinking and tried to pass it on to their children. I thought a lot like my parents as a young adult too, but as I began to educate myself about why certain misconceptions came about. I realized that a lot of what they thought was true, wasn’t true at all. I explained to my father one day that Mexican’s weren’t lazy, that they were the sole reason produce farmers were made successful. That Cesar Chavez saw the injustice of how Mexican immigrants were being treated by the produce farmers in California and decided he was going to stand up for their rights. Because, as I told him, just because they weren’t born here they were human and had civil rights too.
My dad admired John Wayne (don’t ask me why) and though his film The Alamo was one of the greatest films ever. That is until I began college and learned that everything I knew of history was wrong, completely wrong. I told my dad how history painted those that defended the Alamo against all these angry “savage” Mexican’s was wrong. He asked me how (he was kind of angry because what did I know? I was only a woman and he was an all knowing man, this was part of his Mexican machismo). I asked my dad what he knew of the battle of the Alamo and all he could say was that Davy Crockett and James Bowie fought to keep the Alamo from being taken from the Mexican’s. I asked “Is that ALL you know?” and he looked at me confused, and said “Is there anything else?” I was to say the least blown away at how movies made up almost all the misinformed education my parents received. I told him that those savage Mexican’s didn’t believe in slavery and that those defenders of the Alamo wanted to make Texas a slave republic/state, and the Mexican government had outlawed slavery in 1829. The Mexican government discouraged settlers coming to Texas from bringing slaves with them because slavery was seen as barbaric, imagine that?
I told my dad that the battle of the Alamo wasn’t about defending (what was legally theirs by the way) the Alamo against savage Mexican’s drunk on power to control or for independence, but because they didn’t want to allow slavery to come to Texas. My dad sat at the dining room table with his cup of coffee in hand, a look of bewilderment on his face and said “Pues, I didn’t know.” From that day on, he never watched the John Wayne movie The Alamo again, he told one of my uncles that he thought that movie was wrong, that the facts didn’t add up.
I see a great deal of cultural misinformation that went on and is still perpetuated in my parent’s generation and now I know why. They were brought up thinking that they were born American’s therefore they should shun their cultural and historical roots, no speaking Spanish, no celebrating where their parent’s came from, no identifying with their Mexican heritage. Don’t get me wrong, my parents are very proud American’s. My maternal grandfather served in World War II, and stood for the National Anthem every time it played. But my parent’s tried to somehow keep themselves and their children from learning their own heritage by denying it. When one becomes an adult, we begin to think for ourselves, find our own answers and figure out what is fact and what is fiction.
For years I would tell people that I was a fifth or sixth generation American, denying my heritage and now I realize that I was being groomed to do so, by the very people who should have known better. After I began to go to college and realize that my parent’s perception of where exactly we came from was wrong, I began to start to research where my parents came from. Or should I say where their parents came from. My mom’s parents indeed were born here in the United States, but my dad’s parents were not, my paternal grandmother was born in Mexico but was of Mennonite/German/Irish decent. My Granny as we called her, also liked to dress up as Santa Clause for her grandchildren and adapted American traditions with those of her childhood.
Which explains why she was so light skinned, and my paternal grandfather was born in Chihuahua Mexico, and is of Mesoamerican/Mexican (Raramuri) Indian decent and he was very dark skinned. He was also of German/Visigoth decent, how that came about I have no idea.
So how do I identify? Well growing up in El Paso, being exposed to all the Chicano/Latino historical changes and I identify with being a Latina of Mexican decent or a Chicana, which some would say is a derogatory description of the Mexican heritage. But I disagree, because people identify Chicanismo as being cholos who drive low riders and are uneducated gang-bangers who wear flannel shirts (way before the grunge era came about may I add) and bandannas, are mechanics and cholas having tons of kids. Being tattooed, beer drinking, pot smoking drug addicts. But there is so much more to the history of the Chicano/Latino culture than what one sees on t.v or hears about.
And yes, there are some of these stereotypes that are true, but not all of them are. Yes, I am first and foremost an American because I was born here, In San Bernardino California. I was raised in El Paso on the border with Mexico and grew up with a lot of the traditions that my parents tried so hard to suppress, only learning them from friends and their families or older generations of family. Accepting them as part of my cultural heritage and beginning to realize that acceptance why we need to take into account when we hear of all the immigrants coming here looking for a better life.
Also acceptance of where one comes from is important because as the saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It’s taken a while for my parents to come to terms with their familial history and why they should be proud of it instead of shunning it. Although prejudice and ignorance comes to light every so often but I’m all too happy to set them straight and remind them they need to stop their one-way thinking. So I guess if I had to answer the question that Anthony Bourdain asked, I’d say I’m a deep, complex American of Mexican, German, Irish decent that doesn’t identify or hold to only one cultural background. I am an American of different cultures and proud of that fact!
Sure, I joke about carrying a shank in my purse or that I will stick a pencil in Baby Kermit’s neck to shut her up. Or that I will defend my child cubs if you mess with them, and I can get as ghetto/barrio on anyone’s ass if they do me or my family wrong. But that’s not a heritage/cultural thing, that’s purely a Huntress thing!
Until next time remember, chin up, soldier on and watch your back!
The Huntress 915