Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Reflexiónes de Mexico (Reflections from Mexico)

Hola! I have returned from Mexico, and I apologize for not blogging sooner. But as Ash said, we had a pretty tight schedule with many responsibilities. I'm going to follow Ashley's lead and share my reflections as well. The following is the reflection from the first week in Cuernavaca. Disfruten. (Enjoy)

I must admit, though, being here in Cuernavaca has had an effect on me. I have been observing my host family. My observations have led me to reflect on myself and my family and how we operate.

I have watched Mami Elena wake up early and prepare breakfast for her grandchildren, Carla and Rodrigo, my “sisters” and me. When I return from school the house is clean, my bed is remade (even though I make it in the morning), and food is cooking on the stove. Then she serves us la comida and watches us eat, making sure we are satisfied and full until we nearly explode. Then she cleans the kitchen along with her daughters, Norma and Gabriella. All the while, my “nephew” Rodrigo stands by the table talking and joking with us. Mami Elena makes sure we are okay before she leaves to go to her room. Mami Elena takes care of us, her two daughters and her grandchildren. Her daughter Gabriella and her two children, Carla and Rodrigo, live with Mami Elena and Norma is also living here temporarily. Mami Elena reminds me so much of my mother. I remember my mom would always have the house cleaned and food ready. And my mother’s pantry is never empty, and she is always ready to fatten you up. My mother gives and gives, and takes care of the family. Every time I visit she cooks a meal and when I leave I have a bag of various goodies that she packed. We (my brother, sisters, and I) can always go to my mother and be taken care of. Mami Elena and my mother are citadels. They are the glue in the family. These two women keep their family together. They are the super glue. Being here watching Mami Elena makes me appreciate and remember my mother. And I hope to one day be the super glue for my family.

I told my roommate, Ashley, the other day that I am having a “walk a mile in my shoes” type of experience. I have so many friends in Indianapolis from other countries who are at IUPUI to study, and some of them live with their families, some live on their own, and others live with host families. Some of my international friends did not know how to speak English when they first arrived to the U.S. One friend who specifically comes to my mind is Kristiane. She is from Brazil and lived with a host family for four years and started to learn English when she came to the U.S. Even now, when we talk, she may not know a certain word and I will have to tell her and teach her how to pronounce it. This is how I am feeling down here. I already know how to speak broken Spanish, but actually being here in Mexico causes me to speak Spanish all the time, just like my friend has to speak English all the time in the U.S. But I have similar moments where I don’t know a word in Spanish and I have to ask a Spanish-speaker for help. It is a very humbling, exciting and a mind-opening experience. Being in Cuernavaca makes me feel so much like Kristiane – I am in a foreign country, living with a host family, studying at a school and learning an (almost) foreign language.

Spanish isn’t really foreign to me at all, because I am Puerto Rican and my parents speak Spanish. They didn’t teach my siblings or me how to speak the language, however, and that is a long story in which I won’t attempt to explain. I heard Spanish all through my childhood and I decided to learn it in high school. Ever since high school I have had Latino friends and have spoken Spanglish. The language and Latino/Hispanic culture are not foreign to me at all, and I think that is why I feel so at peace here. I truly feel at home, as if I have lived here for years or was possibly born here. The culture here mirrors the culture of my family and my family in New York, Florida and Puerto Rico. The food (which is slightly different than Puerto Rican dishes), music, lifestyle, smells, and the colors remind me all too well of my Puerto Rican heritage. It doesn’t matter if I am in Mexico, I have begun to believe that we are the same. Yes, we have distinctions such as different dialects, facial features and unique foods, but there is some type of cord that threads us together. I even feel Mexican, which would have been odd to me a few years back.

I would have laughed and denied myself a few years ago if someone told me that I was going to fall in love with Mexico. This is because there is this age-old “beef” or joke between Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. For some reason my family and my other Puerto Rican friends have made fun of Mexicans since I can remember, but I never really knew why. Also, we all would get very upset when someone would assume we were Mexicans. We would scrunch our faces up, throw our hands in the air and say things like, “What the hell are you thinking?” or “Hell no!” as if it is a disease to be Mexican. But once I befriended Carla*, who I have known from church since I was probably 10, my perceptions began to change. If someone accidentally assumed I was Mexican (which is quite often) I would not be as offended. I would politely tell them about my background and tell them that there are all types of Latinos in the United States. Carla introduced me to sopa de fidello, Paulina Rubio and Luis Miguel, and how to get down at Latino fiestas. She also taught me how to be lazy - that is what I used to call it, but now that I am in Mexico I see that everyone here just seems to take their time. Also, Carla would always talk about Mexico (and I am sure she still does). She would say, “Man, in Mexico the food is so much fresher than the food here” or “Well, in Mexico there are so many places one can go – you can never get bored.” She constantly compared Mexico to the U.S., and, frankly, it was very annoying. But dear Lord, I now know what she was saying. I find myself comparing Cuernavaca to Indianapolis almost everyday. I don’t want to leave this place!

*Name has been changed for privacy

Sinceramente (Sincerely),
Trina Otero

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