I’m supposed to be Mexican. At least that’s what my parents tell me but the truth is I seem to have more in common with the website StuffWhitePeopleLike.com than I do with the list of topics you will find here. Truth is I’ve never had a strong sense of connection to my Mexican heritage.
I have no longing to immerse myself in Mexican history or savor the rich culture that she, like any country, has to offer.
I was born and raised here in the United States of America and I am very proud and happy to be in a country of such incredible opportunities.
Over the course of my upbringing my parents have tried to instill some aspects of Mexican culture but for the most part their efforts have fallen on deaf ears. But there are a few things that were always a part of my life that are inextricably Mexican: I had a piñata at every birthday party, a flour tortilla with butter has always been the perfect snack, and we always have tamales at Christmas.
The purpose of this column is find a way to make all of this Mexican-ness accessible to a guy who, despite the black hair and dark eyes, grew up in America as any typical American without really having any strong ties to a place my parents left behind.
I went to high school in Orange County, CA (that was one of the few white, republican strongholds in the state). I enjoyed being a mallrat and all the luxuries of middle-class suburbia. Neither I nor my parents speak English with any type of discernable Mexican accent. We have enjoyed everything that America says we should be enjoying from trips to Disneyland and fine restaurants to big-screen televisions and designer clothes.
At the same time we’ve had plenty of birthday parties at the park where me and my 30 cousins (I’m not exaggerating) would have the room to run around and play. Other members of my family are much more Mexican than I. They have a better grasp of the Spanish language, they are more cognizant Mexican culture and are more likely to be presumed “Mexican”. Amongst people I meet many of the speculations regarding my ethnicity have included Italian, Jewish, Arabic, and even white. Hopefully I, along with the readers of this column, will have a better understanding and more profound connection to what it means to be a product of Mexico living in America.
I suppose the best place to start is at the beginning. My family’s story is not unlike thousands of others. My parents came to Mexico as children. Legally, as far as I’ve been told. My grandparents, seeking more opportunity and a better life, looked to America as do just about everyone else in the world. My father tells me it was his mother that pushed his father to get the family north of the border- it quite the paradox that such a male-dominant society produces such strong women. He tells me of the long hours spent waiting for a visa at the immigration office, day after day after day until finally he and his family got the go-ahead to move to the United States. “I thought I was in heaven,” he says, about entering America and seeing San Diego for the first time. “I had never seen so many lights.”
He in his early teens, his three older siblings, and his parents were Americans now and without speaking a word of English or having a job waiting or a place to live now had to make it work.
My mother’s story
My mother’s story is not drastically different. Her father went first. He had a suitcase, a bus ride to Los Angeles, and skills as a tailor. Nothing else. Also, not a lick of English. He found work where he could, eventually sending enough money to his wife and three kids to get them over on this side of the border to join him. Like many Mexican immigrants they settled in East Los Angles and that was their new world. Duty to the family said go to work- education is a luxury and it was not uncommon for many to forego the high school education and find a job.
My parents worked plenty of shit jobs- sometimes right along side their parents. Luckily, my parents completed their education and had the drive and determination to find something outside of East LA.
My folks met, fell in love, and got married and had two children conceived legitimately! There’s something about catholic, Mexican, women where just looking at them funny tends to get them pregnant. My brother and I did not grow up anywhere near the inner city of Los Angeles. We never found ourselves in dangerous neighborhoods or anything like that.
We were given every opportunity that my grandparents were searching for: a safe place to grow up, opportunities for education and employment, and an infrastructure that is not plagued by corruption at nearly every level. My grandparents and parents sought the American Dream but in the process, in the struggle to get our piece of the land of Milk and Honey, we may have neglected some of the great things they had to leave behind.
Eric Valenzuela has continually transplanted himself, moving from one major city to another. He was born and raised in the Los Angeles area, has resided in San Francisco on two separate occasions (including a stint in Vallejo - the first American city to go bankrupt!), and now comes to you from New York City. Eric defines himself as a graduate student, writer, lover, former inmate, and sarcastic guy who desperately misses In-N-Out Burger and rocketing in his Mustang convertible which was left in California. He likes dogs, rock music, tacos and Italian food. Eric periodically writes in two blogs of his own: Transplanted (http://trans-plant.blogspot.com) and I'm Supposed to be Mexican (http://www.imsupposedtobemexican.com) and now he will also be sharing some of his stories with us at HispanicLA.com.