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A Booger, Two Yule Cakes and a Mexiglo
Home from college for the summer, I pulled up to my Aunt Carmen's house alone. I got out and walked up the driveway to the backyard where my cousin's wedding shower was being held. When I rounded the corner of the house, I encountered a row of Mexican women in folding chairs, who stopped talking and stared at me wide-eyed. I glanced down to see if I'd dropped something on my dress.
Just then, I heard one woman say, "Ahhh! La hija de Gloria!" And the other women proceeded to play "telephone," each murmuring the information to the person next to them. "La hija de Gloria...la hija de Gloria." Yes, they'd figured it out--I was the daughter of Gloria, which, of course, explained my light skin and too-light hair, made beachy-blonde by my time spent on Padre Island those college summers.
Gloria was the only one in the family who'd married an Anglo, so all was explained by those 4 words. It wasn't the first time something like that had happened to me and wouldn't be the last, since my aunts were always inviting friends, friends of friends, and distant cousins from Laredo to come to family events. It often took me be suprise, though, because I felt so "at home" with my relatives, I didn't think about the difference until it was pointed out in some way.
After spending my early life in California, far away from my relatives in Texas and Louisiana, my family moved to my mother's home town of Corpus Christi, Texas. That's when I began to experience what it was to be a "Mexiglo" as my parents called it.
Years later, I had a conversation with a Mexiduran (Mexican Honduran) friend of mine in which I described the difference between visiting my dad's Louisiana family--nearly all of our ancestors have British names and pioneered their way to the south over a century or two--and my mom's family, which came to this country from Monterrey and Saltillo Mexico during my grandparents' generation.
I remember telling my Mexiduran friend that on the Anglo side of my family, there was what I called "organized love." When you visit for Thanksgiving, everyone expects a hug when you come in and possibly when you leave, if they don't expect to see you for a while. Typically, you get up to one compliment from a given relative per visit, but no gushing. I tend to think this came from the understated British culture, and the fact that my dad's mother always believed that one of the most dangerous things for a person to have was a "big head," so it was important to support family members within limits that would keep their hat size in the normal range.
Then I told my friend about visiting my Mexican-American relatives. My aunts would hug me, then hold onto me for long periods of time while we talked. They tended to touch anything they were complimenting--my necklace, my clothes, my hair... I had an aunt and a cousin who would see me and cry, "You get more beautiful every time I see you!" Compliments were passionate, repeated--to make sure you heard them over all the talking--and plentiful.
When I finished telling this part, my Hispanic friend said, "Oh, I thought that's how all families were."
This is one reason I had trouble giving my English as a Second Language students definitive answers to some of their cultural questions. Latin Americans, Asians, and Middle Easterners all wanted to know what was appropriate when they were invited to events by Americans. A person who came from only one culture might have given them a more definite answer, but I found myself explaining time and time again that, while there are some general guidelines, Americans are from all different cultures and people have different ideas of how to do everything. My best advice was to ask specific questions about what to wear and what to bring when they were invited to an event, so they wouldn't feel uncomfortable once they got there.
There have also been some really hilarious moments that stemmed from my being a Mexiglo. My favorite is the Christmas season that I was throwing a party at a cable company when I worked for Showtime Networks. I had these beautiful yule log cakes sitting in the conference room and customer service reps were lined up out the door to get their pieces. A Mexican American rep named Oscar asked what flavors the two cakes were. I said, "Vanilla and Mocha." When he wrinkled his nose, I added, "'Mocha,' Oscar, not 'moco' ('booger' in Spanish)."
He laughed, then asked, "Are you Mexican?"
"Half," I answered.
I felt for my "beauty mark" as my parent's called it, found it on the left side of my face and said, "This half," as I pretended to cut myself in half longways.
Oscar laughed so hard he doubled over, then laughed some more. When he finally caught his breath, he said, "I meant, 'Your mother or your father?'"
You see, my entire life, my dad had told me the beauty mark on my face signified which half of me was Mexican. Although I always knew it was a joke, when Oscar asked, I was distracted by hostessing and automatically gave him my dad's answer.
Needless to say, the line was held up for several minutes as he retold the story to everyone within earshot. Was I embarrassed? Oh no, I've done much sillier things than that, but that's another blog.
So, that explains a lot about Not Dreaming of You. Just as I got a huge kick out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I love both the family and cultural differences between witty, sarcastic Mark and open, passionate Kiki.
And living with a Chinese-American husband who came from immigrant parents and a step-son who is Chottish--Chinese-Scottish--in ancestry, certainly has brought a little--actually a lot of--something extra into my life.
I guess I just think life's more interesting when you mix it up a little.