my mestiza consciousness

i woke up this morning and there were so many thoughts slipping and hovering throughout the motions of my morning routine and i am inclined to untangle everything on paper. what you are about to read is an unedited stream of consciousness, an in-cohesive essay, a rambling. this is an extremely long read.

you have been warned.

now, let me start by describing the wallpaper on my computer (it relates, i promise). my wallpaper is a painting of a beautiful young latina who wears a red dress and sits on a mexican and united states flag. her gaze is fixed on something beyond the flags she lounges on, and an enormous aztec calendar rests behind her. i do not remember the painting’s title nor the artist’s name.

this painting evoked many thoughts, one of them concerning the dual identities that xican@s navigate today. the identities that i am referring to are that of the host country and that of the country of origin. for example, as a xicana, my dual identities are mexican and estadounidense. many xican@ scholars have described the plethora of identities that makeup the mexican culture and influence mexican identity, specifically indigenous identities. these scholars, and other xican@s, have affirmed their devotion to their indigenous identity that has been hidden and ignored by many before them. this identity is a current reality for many and an obscured ancestral memory for others; this trinity of identities, then, is what many xican@s are accepting and honoring as their own. this is a wonderful and much-needed aspect of the movement that has continued to expand and has lots of work to do throughout the states and latin america.

i want to briefly state that i understand the complications of trying to separate identities to make sense of them; all cultures intertwine and are influenced by each other, but i am hesitate to describe mexican identity as indigenous. the mexican culture does practice and preserve many aspects of its indigenous roots, and there are so many cultural variances and overlappings that exist within mexico that i cannot fully distinguish indigenous culture from mexican. however, i am describing indigenous identity as one that practices and bathes in its native languages, beliefs, cultures, and customs. of course, the extent to which one practices these aspects are relative, but i contend that there is a difference between indigenous and dominant culture in mexico, a dominant culture that has tried to hide and eradicate the existence of its indigenous roots and peoples throughout its history.

with that being said, there are many xican@s who feel a sense of responsibility to accept and pride themselves on their indigenous identity although they are disconnected from it. this sense of devotion to a once hidden and shamed element of their historical identity, of their ancestry, has sparked questions of identity for me. more specifically, who qualifies as ancestry? when will we also acknowledge the multitude of historical cultures and identities that have shaped our peoples today? i am thinking of the how ancestral blackness is not celebrated, nor asian, and other identities that xican@s may not practice today but have surely influenced our culture, like the indigenous identity. although it can be contended that the emphasis on indigenous identity is an overall attempt to empower native, mexican culture that was oppressed and diminished by colonialism, such thinking depicts indigenous culture as pure, untinged by other influences. it still does not insist on valuing and exploring other historical influences that may have enriched or added to mexican culture. my thoughts have also stemmed from the recent, cruel and horrific attitude of dominican leaders to ethnically cleanse the state. whose culture is worthy of acknowledgement and value in our own?

many may wonder: what is the point of knowing one’s ancestry, despite the need to soothe that curious craving to uncover one’s past? by understanding our pasts, we can better discern our identities that help us maneuver current societal conditions and institutions. in other words, the past defogs the answers to questions of why we look the way we do, why we speak the way we do, why we believe in the things we do, the foundation of which our families and communities have grown and lived in, and how all of this helps shape who we are today.

and, despite the abundance of racial diversity in latin america and the seemingly overwhelming denial of racism that xican@s say come with it, i am wary of the argument that latin america is ignorant of its racism. many xican@s have argued the latter, but i believe such thinking is another version of internalized colonialism. i am confident that latin american scholars have explored race relations in their country. i am confident that there are latin american scholars who have studied how racism manifests in latin america. now, whether xican@s have access to their findings, theories, and studies is another story: in general, the west is portrayed as the sole incubator of liberal thought when that is not the case. or, at least, i do not believe it to be so. whether or not these scholars have evoked social movements to move towards racial equality is yet another story, but even then i am sure there has been some type of work done. there has to have been.

these are incomplete thoughts, and i welcome more thoughts, complete or incomplete. i know i have much research to do: i plan to read more xican@ literature and investigate the work of others, especially those in latin america, who have delved deeper into this abyss.

*****notes*****:
**throughout this piece, i refer to xican@s as those of latin american descent who grew up in the united states, in general xican@s refer to those of mexican descent but i think this experience can be applied to those of other ethnicities.
**i refrain from saying “american” to describe united states residency because central america, south america, and latin america are all americas. estadounidense refers to being from the united states without designating the u.s. as a focal point in the americas.
**mexico has experienced mass migrations and influences from the aforementioned peoples i mentioned. i am sure there are many others that i did not mention as well.

the heart of cinder

On a sultry, humid, July afternoon, Cinder carried eggs, milk, bread, and cheese to his home. Cinder had a small, cozy home, inhabited by his lovely mother, his charming father, and his good-natured older brother, all whom were watching television when Cinder entered. Cinder, an attractive boy with high cheekbones and dark almond eyes, did not acknowledge his family members as he walked past them to the kitchen to put away his newly purchased groceries. Cinder’s family members did not greet him, either. As his family members laughed and conversed on their comfy couches and felt the soft breeze of their little black fan on their cheeks, Cinder put away the eggs, milk, bread, and cheese, annoyed.

Cinder was not always annoyed while putting away groceries or did not always purposefully ignore his family members until his lovely mother broke her ankle. He was in the white 2003 Toyota Corolla, waiting for his mother to emerge from the pale-yellow liquor store when it happened. She came out quickly, carrying a 30 pack of eggs and a low-fat milk, as usual, when she suddenly fell on her knees and all the eggs cracked, which was unusual. Cinder rushed to her side as she unsteadily got back up on her feet.

A few days later, when Cinder’s mother had gone to the hospital because she had trouble walking, they discovered that one of her ankles was indeed broken. She wore a shiny-white cast that covered her entire leg, ankle, and heel. She restricted her movements as much as possible, so she no longer went to work, nor carried any groceries. She rested at home in hopes of a speedy recovery, as her doctor advised. Since then, Cinder had been in charge of all his mother’s errands, such as: cleaning the rugs, curtains, beds; cooking beans, soups, and meats; shopping for groceries, calling cards, and random household goods. Cinder was also a full-time student, who studied social change and social institutions that influence human behavior and thought.

Cinder was now annoyed that despite his studies, his lovely mother, charming father, and good-natured brother believed that he should resume his mother’s errands because he does not have an income. When Cinder questioned his able father and brother, his father reasoned that he generates the most income and that is enough, and Cinder’s brother agreed, reiterating that he also has an income and thus that is also enough. His mother approved her husband and eldest son’s responses, reminding them all that she did all these chores while she had a job. She had done it without assistance from any of them before, and Cinder should be able to do the same. Cinder wondered why they couldn’t divide the work between himself, his father, and his brother, so that six hands would help his lovely mother instead of only two.

A month had gone by and Cinder still cooked, cleaned, and served his family on their beautiful white ceramic plates. A month had gone by and Cinder was as annoyed as ever, speaking to his family in vexed tones when they asked him to make more tortillas because they were running out. While Cinder warmed more corn tortillas for his family, he thought about how his grades had fallen and his hobbies were left unattended, all because his no longer lovely mother broke her ankle.

As Cinder placed the warmed corn tortillas on his family members’ respective plates, his no longer lovely mother told him to serve her more cold water because her glass was nearly empty. As Cinder poured the icy water into her glass, his brother told him to pour the water in his glass too, and quickly, because he was thirsty. Just before Cinder was going to make a snappy comment, his mother shrieked, and Cinder realized that he had over-poured his mother’s glass, and a few drops of water had spilled on her lovely purple dress. His mother shouted at him, and called him useless, stupid, good-for-nothing, and an imbecile. Cinder’s father and brother tried to console her by telling her that it was only water and that he didn’t spill that much. She did not listen to them and ordered Cinder to leave her sight because he was an idiot and she did not feel like speaking to one.

The next day, Cinder and his family members did not acknowledge the fight the day before. They still commanded Cinder to do this and to go do that, and his mother still referred to him as incompetent. Just as his mother did not understand him, Cinder did not understand his mother. He felt embers build in his stomach when he thought of his mother as cruel, ungrateful, and irritating.

Another month had gone by and Cinder could no longer take his mother’s insults or the demands of his father and brother. Cinder left while his mother slept on the sofa with the television on, her mouth open and her hand on her belly, moving up and down with her slow, steady breaths. Cinder stared at her for a minute, wondering whether his decision was the right one. He then moved his gaze to the cast on her leg, still shiny white because she made him polish it that morning, and each morning before that. It didn’t take him long to make a decision when he remembered the way she shouted and complained as he polished her cast.

He ran away and took his video game consoles, his favorite snacks, his headphones, his music player, his favorite blanket, and his stuffed rabbit he named Conejita when he was three.

The day that Cinder had left, his family reasoned that he probably went to go purchase the cheese they were missing, the special soaps he needed to wipe the windows, or the vegetables they craved for tonight’s dinner. When Cinder did not return that night, or the night after, or the night after that, his family members did not cry in each other’s arms, they did not hold each other and wonder what they had done to Cinder to make him leave them. Instead, they whimpered to themselves before they fell asleep, hugging themselves tightly. Cinder’s no longer lovely mother, his no longer charming father and his no longer good-natured brother knew the reason why Cinder had left, although they did not dare say it aloud.

Cinder did not return home until he graduated college and generated income. He now owned a small but growing business, one that he was very proud of but did not describe to his family members when he visited them. When Cinder’s family hugged him and cried tears of joy, expressing how much they have missed him, Cinder only noticed that his lovely mother’s shiny white cast was gone.

This visit was like a business trip to Cinder—he returned to forgive. For these past few years, Cinder had been gnawed at by the images of his mother whipping him with her tongue, his father often looking the other way, and his brother doing the same. What Cinder did not know, however, was that this business trip would not be as he planned, because moments later Cinder asked his now lovely mother for forgiveness. He did not mean to abandon them, he did not mean to let his mother live the life she lived before she had broken her ankle, where she went to her full time job that generated income and came home to cook, clean, and run errands. He did not mean to let her do everything and let his father and brother do nothing. Cinder forgot about his mother’s past complaints and insults and only remembered the moment when she gave him Conejita when he was three so that he would never be alone wherever he was. He remembered love.