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  • Maira Hernández

Mourning The Loss of My Mexico

I have spent a couple of months living in Mexico reveling in every aspect of the experience. Learning how to cook, listening to family history, and getting accustomed to a more nature-filled life. What has been the most endearing experience for me is spending time with my abuelos and learning who they are, through their actions and character, and realizing how much has been passed down through generations by just their way of being. Their work ethic, their honesty, their pride. I have gained so much in just two short months that I was sad when I had to return to LA. I was teary eyed as I looked around the plane once we landed realizing that for the upcoming weeks I would no longer be in Mexico. Three weeks, I figured would go by in a flash- I would be back in Mexico in no time. I was back in LA for birthdays, Thanksgiving and a wedding. Although I appreciated all of those events, there was a part of me struggling being back in LA. I attributed all of my feelings to reverse-culture shock. From growing accustomed to the slow-paced country life, the endearing social interactions and the amazing natural food to being back in the fast-paced city where the majority of people did not seem to understand the concept of patience or the quality of a heart-felt life; that reality made me sad.


I was struggling, hard! I found myself going for runs near the California coast because it seemed to be the only place I could find peace. It was the only place I felt connected to all the other places I had ever been. It was quiet and tranquil. I would stand there at the edge of the cliff, over looking the horizon, in appreciation for the ocean that connects us all, visualizing the coasts I have had the privilege of standing on all around the world. That’s what I appreciated about the ocean, nature never has borders, it connects us all.


As much as I missed Mexico, the only thing I could do to feel connected besides be in nature was research. I started learning more about the indigenous people of Michoacán, the Purépechas, and learning more about the Tarascan Empire. There was a whole set of history, pyramids included, during the same time period of the Aztecs that I had never known about. I sat there watching YouTube videos on their culture, the history, and on how to cook certain recipes, so I could ask my abuela if we could make those dishes upon my return. I watched the whole process of nixtamal and realized how far back our culinary history goes. Everything I had been eating as a kid from tortillas, tamales, chapatas, pozole, atole, etc has rich ancient history. I had known this history intellectually but now it was a part of me, I have a little bit of ownership now that I know how to cook those recipes. And with the metate sitting in my abuelas laundry room I knew it was a process she had taken part in, and she was the last generation with that knowledge, but now I feel I can pass on the little that I know.


Now being back in Mexico and recognizing the finality of my trip, I have a different appreciation for my time here. An appreciation for the land, the food, my family, and tranquil time for myself. Over the last few days I’ve been reading a book by America Ferrera called “American Like Me”- a collection of essays by mostly first-generation Americans. I was reading her personal story on her trip back to Honduras and learning about her family history on her estranged father’s side. As I was reading there was a reflection of hers that made me understand my own personal experience more deeply. She says “I had only ever been taught to think of my family’s immigration to the United States as a great gift; to give thanks for my life in the United States and to appreciate what I’d gained. It had never crossed my mind to mourn what I’d lost: hundreds of years of history, of connection, of identity, of family, of knowing the people and the land that I came from, of knowing myself”. After I read that, I sat there took it all in, and cried. This was the clarity to all of the emotions I had been feeling- the endless gratitude I was feeling when I came to Mexico, to the new found confidence I carried on my shoulders, and the frustrating confusion I was feeling when I went back to LA. I had a new love and appreciation for Mexico, one that brought clarity to my identity and I was sad because just like my parents did when they migrated I would soon have to do the same.


Like her, I understand the privilege it is to have been born in the U.S., but my trip here has also made me recognize everything that I’ve missed out on. My family history, the pride in our personal heritage, the understanding of the land and our people, the wisdom of my abuelos, the relationship to my ancestors and the recognition of where my best personal qualities came from. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about what my life would have been if my parents stayed in Mexico- Would I have gone to college? Would I be married with kids? Who knows. But one thing for sure is that being an immigrant family in the U.S. puts you in a place where the wisdom and knowledge from our native lands isn’t valued because we are viewed as minorities by society. That is until we learn to value it ourselves and bring those values to the table- and this is coming from someone who has always had a lot of Mexican pride.


It’s different recognizing this loss as a mature adult and not as a college kid. When we learn about colonialism we can’t bear but to feel the anger of everything stolen from us and stand in pride of our culture that survived. I grew up coming to Mexico as a child, and I have always been proud of my culture- speaking the language, loving the food, enjoying the music, studying the history. I thought I had the best of both worlds, and technically I do- I recognize the privilege of a U.S passport and a bachelors degree. But it wasn’t until I started being curios about my own family history that I recognized everything that was left behind with immigration.

It is a different experience recognizing the emotional loss of your own personal lineage due to immigration. The loss of the local proximity to ancient roots and traditions, the ability to visit the pyramids in Tzintzunzan and learn about the Tarascan Empire and experience Dia de Los Muertos. The wisdom, knowledge and unconditional love of my abuelos because there really is no love like that of your abuelos and seeing them a couple of weeks a year is never enough. The love your bisabuelos had for you that you never knew about until your abuela told you that her mom, your bisabuela, would always come to her house and admire the family portrait of you and your family and say how beautiful you are. And the endless support of a caring community where everyone is glad to have you back in the rancho and where even la señora del pan from the other rancho says “Ya regresaste? Que bueno!”. Just my presence alone is appreciated here, not my degree or experience, just my simple presence. This was a different experience for me because my presence in certain places in the U.S brings discomfort just because of my ethnicity and it almost seems like my credentials, or my right to be in a certain place, is always questioned.


There is so much that is lost with immigration, and I who have the privilege of being here long term in an attempt to gain as much of it back have a sense of responsibility to share it with those who can benefit from it. This experience has been so transformative, and as I go on living here in Mexico I’m going to remember that not everyone has the privilege of coming back to the motherland to experience and learn more about their origins. Recognizing this has given me the opportunity to move forward with curiosity for what I can continue learning and with so much more confidence in knowing how amazing my family history and how rich my culture is. I can now go back to the U.S. knowing that I have a richness in my lineage that cannot be taken away from me by the word “minority”or any other term that implies that I’m less than. My roots are deeper now, where as before, as cultured as I was, I didn’t recognize that my roots were very much surface level- whether through my own doing or through the pulling of an "American" culture. These deep roots that I have now will ground me as I continue to move forward in this bi-cultural experience.

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