I can finally say that I have been to Guadalajara. Why does that mean so much to me? Because it’s part of my history. As someone who has been questioned about my heritage or challenged about not being Mexican enough, this means sooooo much to me.
My nana on my mom’s side was born and raised in Guadalajara, México. She met my grandpa in San Diego when she was visiting her cousins one year to learn English. My grandpa worked with one of her cousins, they met, and next year is their 60th wedding anniversary. For years I have been trying to convince my mom and nana that we should visit. I wanted to see where she grew up and meet the cousins and friends that I always heard about, but it just never happened. My nana’s health isn’t the greatest so unfortunately she wasn’t able to come, but I got my mom to book a flight for the first weekend to introduce me to the family I have either never met or hardly remember. When I decided to take this trip, Guadalajara was a MUST for me.
My desire to visit Mexico in general I think comes from a need to identify more with my Mexican heritage. Like I mentioned before, I have constantly been questioned throughout my life about my ethnicity. Having a stranger come up to you and ask “What are you?”, is one of the most frustrating things that I deal with on a regular basis. I remember the first time something like that happened. I was in third grade. It was recess and my little group of friends were under the jungle gym. It was the cool place to be. Who knows what we were talking about, but a question was asked of me where I corrected someone, telling them that I was Mexican too. One of my friends turned to me and said “Really? I thought you were Chinese or something.” I don’t know why it affected me so much that I still remember that moment to this day, but it did. Later on in school, since I didn’t speak Spanish people just assumed I was white….which technically isn’t wrong. My grandpa is a lot of different things but primarily of German ancestry. But my dad is full Chicano so I feel more Mexican-American than any thing else. I mean my last name is Alvarez. And I am fucking proud to be Mexican! I think that’s why I have a problem with people questioning me. I constantly get asked if I’m Pacific Islander, Polynesian, Asian. I got asked twice on my flight to Hawaii if I was going home to O’ahu and on NYE a random stranger asked where I was from. When I responded that LA was home for me, he was shocked. He thought I was hapa (half Asian, half White) and was expecting me to name a part of the island. So this is still very much a part of my life. And there is nothing wrong with looking like any of the races or ethnicities that I just mentioned. My strife comes from the fact that people are often in disbelief when they get their answer. I’ve been made to be hyper aware of my appearance when it comes to race because people are so adamant about needing to know “what I am”. It’s weird. Why is it so hard to believe I am Mexican? I’ve only been in Mexico for two days and the variety of faces, skin tones, hair and eye colors is incredible. Mexican’s come in all shapes and sized, and it bugs me that people don’t acknowledge that.
As I got older and realized how much culture has been lost, how many Mexican traditions my nuclear family doesn’t observe, my yearning to make those connections strengthened. I think the biggest thing for me is the language.
I don’t speak Spanish and that is the single most important reason I am spending so much time in Mexico – then going to Puerto Rico after. I can understand enough…when it’s slow or when I read it. But I am not a confident speaker and if someone is speaking fast, I’m a goner. After being here for a couple days, I’m going to invest in some intensive Spanish lessons. I am not at a level that I want to be and even though it’s a lot of money I wasn’t planning on spending, I’m getting a pretty decent tax return so “Treat Yo Self”. No better time to immerse myself in it and the programs I found in Guadalajara and Ciudad de México both include cultural outings/activities. Go hard or go home……and I am not going home! Will I be completely fluent after 2 months in Mexico with 4 weeks of intensive Spanish classes? Probably not, but it’s a push I need to give myself that I struggled with in California. I knew I needed to put myself in an environment where I’m forced to speak Spanish and so here I am.
Other reasons I am staying in Guadalajara is because I have people to stay with. Mexico is cheap, but I still want to save money wherever I can. I’m staying for one of the weeks at my mom’s padrinos (godparents) house and two weeks at her cousins. Yes I will be saving money but I’m also getting to spend time getting to know people who I have heard about my whole life or haven’t seen in over a decade. I get to learn about more about my family in Mexico and hear some great stories about my grandparents. I’m really looking forward to that.
On the same note of being cheap. THE FOOD! Much delicious, such inexpensive, yes content. I’ve only been here for three days and doing the mental math to convert pesos to dollars so I can know how much I’m actually spending…..AMAZING! My meals are costing me a dollar or two. In LA, the same meals would have easily been $10. And the micheladas, ugh. I am so excited for two months of all the Mexican flavors. I’m pretty sure my the time I leave, my body will be solely made up of micheladas, chilaquiles, sopes, and elotes. And I’m not mad about it. In Hawaii, I was eating small portions and making most of my food because going out to eat was so expensive that I made an extremely conscious effort to make things go as far as possible. And I still blew my food budget by almost $100. That’s definitely not going to be a problem in Mexico. I’m pretty sure I’m going to gain weight in Mexico, because how can you say no to a fresh elote or tamal or anything covered in tajin!!!! In LA, I constantly had michelada ingredients in my fridge and was always on a mission to find really good chilaquiles….I don’t think I’ll have a problem doing the same thing here.
Your adventure sounds like the chance of a lifetime! To connect with the motherland is important to all of us “in the middle” (Chicanos). My sister once spent a summer in Mexico City and came back fluent, you can do it! Looking forward to reading about your travels.
Yes Julie! It’s something that I’ve felt is so important for me to experience and learning the language has always been something I felt like I need to do! I’m trying to make these two months count