I write a lot about being Mexican. Way too much in fact, some have told me. For the record I don’t think there’s such a thing as way too much when it comes to writing about my culture. The truth is I’ve always been much more comfortable with that part of my heritage. It’s clear. It’s colorful. It’s loud. And I can pretty much grasp the concept of it at any point in my life and what it meant to me then.
The being American part, that’s what throws me off!
It’s not that I don’t know what it means to be an American (a US born citizen in my case), nor that I am ashamed of that part of who I am in any way. I am not. Only that in our household growing up La India María, El Chavo and Cantinflas were much more influential than say Michael Jackson, Farah Fawcett or even the Material Girl herself. Our summers weren’t spent at the Grand Canyon, Disney World, or even San Antonio for that matter. We spent day in and day out clearing out our family land of shrubs and other unwanted weeds in El Sauz. Mom and dad didn’t work in offices anywhere. My sisters and my mother would clean people’s offices in the evenings when they had punched out for the day. They couldn’t help us with our homework. We helped them by filling out employment applications and knocking door to door on complete strangers’ houses asking them if they would hire my parents for any handy work or housekeeping they needed.
Americans weren’t supposed to do that. Or so I thought.
To me being American back then meant not having to clean after anyone, giving instructions to someone and having them follow exactly what I said, and most importantly doing at least some or at least part of what my non-Mexican classmates got to do over their summers. It always sounded like so much fun. Why couldn’t we ever take a US road trip? I would wonder often. The farthest we’d ever gone stateside was from the Rio Grande Valley to Houston and that was all in Texas.
Then again, I didn’t wonder all that much about it. As soon as summer would hit and we would make our way past Reynosa, all my longings for my classmates’ vacations would subside. I was too consumed with excitement about seeing my abuelos and cousins to worry about being American. I was and that’s all I needed to know.
These days, I’m a lot more familiar with my American culture and heritage too. Although I am the first to admit that a lot of cultural intricacies about growing up on American pop culture just plain escape me. Still, on holidays like Independence Day I can’t help but be thankful for all of the great opportunities this country has afforded myself, my family, and millions of others out there like me.
I thank all of the men and women in uniform who have made this reality possible for us.
Happy 4th of July America!