It's the end of summer.
I leave home for college in two days. The months went by too slowly for my liking, but too quickly at the same time. It's late at night. I'm in the car with my boyfriend, on the way back to my house. We've been talking the entire ride. Well, it's more that I've been talking, waving my arms around for emphasis with my boyfriend glancing over every once in a while to smile and nod. I talk too much, but he says he doesn't mind.
That night, I can't even remember what I talked about.
Going back to college maybe, the unfortunate hair dye I did to myself (it was supposed to be lavender, but it came out bright purple, pink, and brown). I know I talked about Texas. El Paso. I complained about the state of our society, I talked to try to find the logic in the mess, but there was none.
So I told him he had to read my article that had gone live that day. I was proud of it. They say to write what you know, and what I know best is my family, God, and being Latina.
The latter point is tricky, though. Living as a second-generation American has always been a struggle and a constant internal battle of trying to decide whether my struggle was valid.
I mean, I'm not my parents who traded family, warmth, and stability in Mexico for loneliness, snow, and doubt in America. I wasn't the one who worked to learn another language, get a Ph.D., and make a living. My parents never fail to remind me how easy I have it here.
And while those lectures bored me as a kid, I know they're right. In this country, I'll never have to struggle the way they did. And even though I don't have to learn another language, I still juggle the two of them, just as I juggle two cultures. And that's where the struggle comes in.
I have one foot in an American way of life, and one foot in the Mexican heritage of my parents.
Thus, the lifelong question all second-generation Americans face is born: Where do I belong? Do I belong in the culture of the country I was born in or in the culture of the country I was raised with?
After almost 20 years of pondering, I still don't have an answer to that question.
And after that night, driving home, I realized that I had been selfish in the search for my answer. I had always been so worried about where I belonged, which culture I was allowed or supposed to call my own, that I forgot about anyone else. I never stopped to think about the struggles future generations would face.
Because those struggles aren't the same. Just as my struggle is different from that of my parents, so too will my children have other issues. Despite a perpetual baby fever (a severe case, unfortunately incurable) I had never given much thought about them until that night. I had been talking too much. I probably only stopped to breathe, but Gavin saw his chance. "When we have kids," he said, "yes, they're going to be American but yes, they're also going to be completely Mexican. They're going to be both. Is that OK with you?"
In a perfect world, I would be both. I would be equally Mexican and American.
I wouldn't be forced to choose one culture over the other. But this world is far from perfect. In this world, immigrant parents tell their children, "We are Mexican, which means you are too. But you were born here, so you are American."
I remember my mother explaining this to me when I was young, when I had asked what I was. I remember being dissatisfied with her answer. I wanted to be Mexican.
I felt that being born in this country created a divide between me and my parents, an obstacle that wouldn't be easy to move around (I was right). So I asked my father what I was. I asked if I was Mexican, hoping he'd give me the answer I wanted. "You're American," is what he'd say each time I asked.
It wasn't until I was older that I understood their answers.
I had so desperately wanted to be Mexican at a difficult time. My parents were only here because of visas, with a renewal process that my mother described as a type of lottery. It was a time when we had to go through separate check-in lines at the airport, and I didn't know why.
I had wanted to be Mexican at a time where something could have happened to my parents, and if I refused to call myself American, what would happen to me?
But nothing is going to happen to me. I was born here so nothing can happen to me.
Time and time again, I felt pressured to choose one culture over the other because I was scared. Scared of losing my parents, scared of losing my culture. I have been so scared of one thing or another all my life, but those fears stop with me. My children will never, ever have to worry about something happening to me.
And because of that, they won't have to feel forced to choose one culture or another. They can be both. Or they can choose one because it feels right, not because they feel they have to. My children will have their struggles like all children do, but the struggle of "where do I belong" will not be one of them.
My fears will not be their fears and because of that, they will belong.
I belong in this country, and it is something I have to remind myself every day of. But my children will belong in this country, and they won't need to be reminded. They will simply know.
I never answered my boyfriend's question. Instead, I sat in silence for the remainder of the ride home. He had made me cry, but I was entirely OK with it.