Long-story-short, and for personal reasons I do not wish to publicly divulge, I have left Mexico and am back in Indiana. It has been nearly a month since my return, and I am still ‘coming down’…so to speak. Having the experience of living in Mexico absolutely changed me in ways I could never have predicted. Obviously, I have known for my whole life that I am of Mexican descent. But, having only recently become acquainted with my father, who is the hispanic bloodline, I have never personally known the culture in any way. I was raised white. I grew up in small-town, white, rural Virginia. I attended a primarily white school. My family was white. As far as I knew, I was also white. I took no notice of my own skin color; I didn’t know to. It wasn’t until a couple of years after high school, and an unpleasant interaction with a racist old man at an ice cream shop that I began to develop awareness of my melanic differences. Looking back, I am astonished that it took so long. What does this have to do with living in Mexico? Well, I’ll get there.
Knowing I am of Mexican descent fostered an extreme curiosity for Mexican culture from a very young age. And as soon as I could, I enrolled myself in Spanish classes in eighth grade. I wanted to be as close to my inherited culture as possible, and in white America, this was the only way I knew to do it. Fast-forward fourteen years (Jesus Christ…) and I would find myself living and speaking “the dream.” I felt an instant connection with the city, the people, the food, and the culture. Following my dramatic “coming out” period, I came to feel comfortable in my own skin, and surrounded by a community in which I believed I belonged. But I definitively had not experienced a sense of belonging like I had while living in Mexico. For the first time in my life, no matter where I looked, everyone looked just like me. There was a bit of a language barrier, for sure. American public school Spanish will only get you so far, no matter how long you’ve studied (for me, it was five years). But I caught on quickly and was able to effectively live. You know, adulty things like paying bills, conversations with utility companies, store clerks, my landlady, and of course shoppppingggg and ordering foooood. I assimilated very easily. What was especially interesting to me, however, was how automatically each person I encountered expected me to be Mexican: to speak fluent Spanish, to understand the nuances of the language and culture. And even more strangely, when I was not up to the task, I was not met with the anticipated “learn the language, go back to where you came from, foreigners are ruining this country, etc.” rhetoric one so often hears in America. Instead, I was just met with confusion. “You’re not from here??” Nope. I moved here from Indiana. “Seriously?” Yup. Maybe it was because their opinion of my Spanish was much higher than my own, but let’s just call a spade a spade, shall we? I’m brown. Seven months of given acceptance, I had grown such an intense sense of public comfort that I did not know could exist for me. And I’ll tell you, that made for a doozy of an experience coming back, as well.
The most interesting part of all of this is that, the person who stepped onto the plane in Guadalajara was not the same person who stepped off in Atlanta, Georgia. At least, not as perceived by the general public. And I was painfully aware of this. I felt every stare, heard every murmur, and could feel the “shock” of those around me as I stepped into the “US-Passport” line at customs. I went from feeling — being confident, self-assured in my surroundings to feeling almost embarrassed, just for being brown (even more brown than when I left, because the weather in Guadalajara is chronically beautiful). I found myself keeping my head down, making as little direct eye-contact as possible. I was sweating with intense, irrational fear that the customs officer…agent…whatever their title is, would sniff me out as an immigrant and fabricate some reason to prevent my entry into the United States. I made huge efforts in my speech to speak as clearly and intelligently as humanly possible. I sported this huge (yuge) false smile, baring a mouth-full of pearly whites for all to see. And, even though I made it through completely unscathed, I still expected to encounter some kind of trouble for hours following. The first week back was the weirdest, feeling like a stranger in your own home. Overcompensating, overemphasizing your “white-ness” to detract from the “brown-ness”; feeling like a foreigner in literally the only land you had ever walked until you left. It was very bizarre.
So what am I doing now? Well, I’m trying to find myself again. I have given a lot of thought to what I want my New Year’s resolution to be, and I have decided to focus on striving every day to be a more authentic version of myself than I was yesterday. For years I have had a clear vision of the person I want to be. But, I always look at this person and resign to the fact that I lack the will power, assets, whatever to ever become them. I have thought a great deal about what it means for my sense of self, and have questioned if perhaps I am “trying to be something I am not.” “Accept who you are.” “Love yourself,” they say. Well, for me those sentiments are just breeding complacency and do not effectively encourage healthy growth. I also intend to significantly reduce my consumption of pre-packaged foods in an effort to be a more whole, wholesome human being, but that is more of an effect than a cause.
In a recent visit to Michael’s, mostly to kill time, partly to window shop and price a new easel, I came across a quote that has really got me thinking. “Finishing creates momentum.” In an effort to combat the “stuck” feeling I so often find myself in. I am really going to go to great lengths to ensure I finish everything I start this year, starting with finishing up my projects from 2016. I am tired of constantly searching for closure and validation in my life: Did I do enough? Am I doing enough? How am I doing? And this year, instead, I want to know that whatever I set out to do, I did. Look out 2017, I’m coming for ya.