SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2009       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Keila Amaro

Where do I fit in?

I am a U.S born citizen. My parents were born in Mexico and have been U.S citizens for quite some time now. Culturally, racially, and ethnically, I identify myself as Mexican and have never seen a problem with doing so. This all changed after I visited Mexico for the first time. So why is it that I was so impacted by a simple trip to Mexico? It wasn’t because I saw the way people lived and was shocked by living conditions or lack of material items I would deem essential. The reason I was so impacted by this trip was because it accentuated my U.S lifestyle.

I was 12 and it was the summer of 6th grade. My mom and I were accompanying my grandparents, two aunts, and cousin on a trip to Michoacán. This was the first time I was going to Mexico, and I was very excited. I was going to be able to see where my mom grew up and get to jump right in to my “heritage” and “culture”.

By the time I visited Mexico, historically speaking, immigrants had been in the U.S for many years and federal agents had begun to deport illegal immigrants, the Immigration act had been signed, and Mexico had gone through a few economic disasters. The citizens of Mexico knew all of this, but I was unaware of it. I was expecting to be a part of their culture and their “way of life” because in my eyes, I had been brought up “Mexican” just like them. The reality of it was that all I had in common with them was language, a few shared traditions and some cultural aspects. I had ignored all the historical background that divided us more than it brought us together. The people of Mexico carry certain burdens that I as a U.S born citizen have never had and hopefully never will have to face.

Once we arrived by plane in Mexico City, we began our 4 hour drive to Michoacán. I remember getting to the hotel at 11pm, being hungry and finding out that all the restaurants in the area were closed. Deciding to go to a little food stand across the street and getting coffee and a toasted bread made me feel like I fit right in because I was doing something that the “natives” did. I expected to fit right in because after all, I was Mexican too.

Little did I know that that feeling would quickly change. As the next few days went by, I realized that although I was “Mexican”, I wasn’t Mexican. I didn’t fit right in and wasn’t part of their everyday life like I thought I would be. I was amazed at all the things I saw and noticed. In the market, there were vendors everywhere, selling sunglasses, fruit cups, toys, purses, and everything in between. The smell of food drifted throughout the city. I picked up scents of traditional dishes like Menudo, as well as things like hamburgers. Spanish was spoken at a faster pace and I had to really pay attention and not let my mind wander in order to catch every word. Even though I am fluent in Spanish, I struggled to keep up. I realized that geographical location changes the way a language is used.

I was a tourist, not a native and this was visible anywhere I went by the way I talked, walked, and acted. It was almost as if I had written Tourist on my forehead for everyone to see. I wasn’t the same kind of Mexican that the people of Michoacán were. I realized I was an Americanized Mexican. I wasn’t the only one to notice this either, they noticed it as well.

She tried to fit in but her ways kept her from “fitting in” to our culture. She couldn’t hide where she was from, even if she tried. Her Spanish was different, she seemed to talk at a slower speed than we are used to and she had a little accent. Her actions were also different. Here we are accustomed to treat even strangers like friends in all aspects of the word. She was not quite sure how to act when she saw this; I imagine she comes from a place where everyone tends to keep to themselves. She even stood out by the way she ate and the foods she stuck to eating!

When we went to the Mercado, she tried to be casual but I’m sure everyone noticed the way she was looking at everything with amazement. When it was time to eat, she always stuck with the “quesadillas” instead of trying more traditional things. Sure there were things that were similar but saying that she was just like us would not be correct.

Although my parents are from Mexico and have passed on many cultural aspects to my siblings and I, I realized that that legacy does not make me from Mexico. I discovered that a person can be Mexican or Korean or German without being from these places. However, the way I view myself and the way a person from Mexico views me will be different. We gaze at the same thing from different angles.

This experience was an eye opener. After this trip, I learned that we cannot assume to be like others because we partake in a few similar acts, which is what I had been doing. I figured that since my parents were from Mexico and I ate similar food, did similar activities, and valued similar things as the people from Mexico, that I was just like them and would fit right in. In doing so, I was ignoring the influence the American way of life has had on who I am as a person.

We have to recognize our differences and not assume that we are just like others or that we understand them simply because we share some things in common. If we do, we will never allow others to teach us about themselves and we will be stuck in what we think is Cultural Competence without actually ever achieving it. I believed that just because I share the same ancestors or cultural background with the people of Mexico, I would fit right into their “world”. I finally understood that I was wrong in making that assumption. Instead of going to Mexico and seeing all the similarities, I left noticing all the differences.


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