Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gracias a la Vida

This may sound strange (and sad), but for most of my upbringing I felt no pride or gratitude in my heritage. So many of the folks around me shared my heritage that I saw no way in which I was different from anyone around me, and it wasn't until I was well into my twenties (and away from home) that I realized that not everyone was Mexican (duh!). In fact, there are still things I run across today that are cultural things (tastes, tendencies, issues) that I don't realize are cultural until a non-Latino points it out to me. Crazy, but true. You mean not everyone crashes cascarones on their friends' heads on Easter weekend??? And not every household is stocked with pan dulce for Sunday morning??? Seriously? I have to laugh at myself. I've taken so much for granted for so long that I'm only now aware that not everyone grew up the way I did. And I'm especially aware of this now that I am married to an Indian family. And yes, I am married to the family.

But that's not the point of this rambling post. Bear with me here, cuz I already know this will be a rambling post, as I'm just sussing some of this out for the first time in my adult life. The point is this: that only in being a part of an Indian family as an adult am I able to appreciate the fact that Latinos have been in this country long enough to have created a few in-between generations, thus saving us from the generational issues that seem to plague Asian families. In fact, we've gotten so good at being Mexican-Americans, that we've been able to give a name those in-between generations: Chicanos.

I think that is what has made the cultural aspect of my life so easy while my husband's has been so fraught with familial tension and parental disapproval. Instead of seeing in terms of black and white, here -vs- there, immigrant -vs- American born, Chicanos claim their Americanness and their Mexicanidad simultaneously, unreservedly, and with great love and acceptance. I never had to deal with my parents breathing down my neck to be more "Mexican" and to disregard American culture. We are simply Mexican-American, and that, my friends, is a culture within a culture. We've somehow been able to find a middle ground for ourselves and settle down quite comfortably while embracing both aspects of who we are.

While my husband's parents insist on differentiating themselves from the "Americans" around them, I enjoy a certain amount of freedom within my culture. It's there, but it's not all of who I am. It's my heart, but it's not always my day-to-day. Sure, a certain mariachi ballad can bring tears to my eyes (Volver, Volver, what else?!), and I'll never forget singing De Colores in an overheated auditorium year after year when my parents would make their Cursillo...and of course, my earliest childhood memories are of watching my grandma make nopales in her little kitchen while Cuco Sanchez played on the record player. In other words, my heritage is close to my heart, but I'm also able to get out there and live my American life and eat Vietnamese food and listen to Reba McIntyre, and play with my non-Latino friends and not think once all day, all week, about my heritage and that doesn't make me any less Mexican.

For many Indian parents, this is impossible. You have to think about your culture when you wake up in the morning and when you go to bed at night, and when you fraternize with "Americans" you are supposed to feel out of your element, and you have a choice to make--you're either one of us or you're one of them. You can't be both. What a shame that is--I'm here to say that you can indeed be both. You can embrace both cultures for what they are--and you can embrace yourself for what you are. I'm sitting here listening to Joan Baez sing "Gracias a la Vida," one of my favorite songs, and I find that the singer and the song are the perfect illustration of what just took me far too many words to articulate.

For your listening/viewing pleasure:


Gorgon Zola said...

It really is too bad you have to experience the Indian culture in this way :( Not all Indian families have so much tension and aversion to being "American". For some, it is possible to integrate both cultures and value both without creating the whole us against them thing. I totally hear you though on that end of the family being so anti anything that is American. It's why I did the work to get away from that mentality and created a circle of Indian American friends that value and integrate both being an American and an Indian and doing so in a way that melds the two cultures easily. We exist and hope to pass it on to the future generation :).

CafeMama said...

Indeed. And this is why you're in charge of passing on your heritage to your nephews--they'll learn it best from you. And this is why I love meeting your friends. I've heard too many stories from R and from other friends of mine who have had parents like that and I need some fresh input! As you can tell, long weekend...

Gorgon Zola said...

Sorry to hear about your weekend :( That's why I need to take you to visit my mom's side of the family in India.

CafeMama said...

Actually it was a surprisingly good weekend but these were some of the thoughts that go through my head as I observe the family dynamics. Anyway, I miss you and can't wait to see you!!!