Born in the US. Made in Mexico.

butterfly

“The U.S-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country — a border culture.

Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants.”

― Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza


Somewhere in Buenos Aires…. “¿De dónde sos?”

“I’m from the US.”

“Wow! But your Spanish is REALLY good!”

“Well, that’s because my family is from Mexico. I lived there half my life.”

“Oh. So you don’t consider yourself Mexican?” “Yeah looks like you’ve joined the dark side and become an imperialist.” “Haha! You’re so an imperialist!”

“¿De dónde sos?”

 “I’m from Mexico.”

“Wait! Someone told me you went to school in the States?” “Your accent sounds American. Like SUPER American.” “Yeah, you’re a fake Mexican.” “I know accents, and trust me, yours isn’t Mexican.”

“Funny. You just told me you thought I was Colombian.”

“¿De dónde sos?”

“I’m from Mexico and the US.”

“You can’t be both. Pick one.”

⇔⇔⇔

Your Spanish sounds…

…Mexican…

…Colombian…

…Brazilian…

…definitely not Argentinian…

…American…

…Wait! You speak Spanish?!

⇔⇔⇔

The other day, I had to make a recording of myself speaking in Spanish. I couldn’t help but start analyzing my own speech (perk/curse of studying linguistics).  I could hear where my tongue would strike my alveolar ridge instead of the back of my teeth. Where I accidentally turned a flap into a stop. Where my English syntax snuck in. Where my Spanish lexicon failed me. Where I wished I could express myself better in my heritage language.

I hear myself hesitating, searching for the right word. Always searching.

⇔⇔⇔

Your English sounds…

…Mexican…

…Hispanic…

…White…

…American…

…Normal…

…Wait! You speak Spanish?!

⇔⇔⇔

I’ve read thousands and thousands of pages in English and probably written hundreds. In Spanish? Not so much….

When I write in English, it’s not too hard to find my rhythm. I feel like I can make words sing without ever putting them to music. I can argue; I can joke; I can wonder. (I just can’t use idioms.)

Writing in Spanish is an exercise in self-doubt. I feel vastly limited and uncreative. My vocabulary is lacking, and my writing toolkit seems tiny compared to my English one. I constantly feel that I’m subconsciously translating from English to Spanish without realizing it, like some odd, slightly terrifying self-conspiracy theory. I’m also at the mercy of the internet: “Uh Google? How do I say in Spanish, ‘I studied morphosyntactic focus structures in Gulmancema and compared said structures to typological qualities found in other African languages’? Sorry, I’ve never had to say that to my parents or in a Spanish literature class…”

Writing in Spanish carries a somber tune with a dash of longing. I’m constantly wishing I could write better…

…and one day, I will. Because every day, I read articles or books in Spanish, with the hope that someday the words will flow just as naturally in both languages. Spanish has always been a fight. A fight not to forget; a fight to keep Spanish alive for the next generation; a fight not to lose half of myself.

⇔⇔⇔

Is any piece of writing on hyphenated Americans really complete without a reference to Diaspora Blues?

“So, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
Never enough for both.”

Excerpt from “Diaspora Blues” by Ijeoma Umebinyuo

⇔⇔⇔

Sonrió fuerte, puso su brazo sobre mis hombros, y me miró a los ojos, diciendo, “¿Pero sabés qué? Vos solo necesitás ser Evelyn. Es todo. Sí, podés ser gringa y mexicana a la vez, pero lo que nos importa es que vos seas vos. La que queremos es vos. Evelyn es todo lo que necesitás ser,” y con eso me dio un beso en la mejilla.

“You know what? You just need to be Evelyn. Yeah, you can be American and Mexican at the same time, but what matters to us is that you be you. The one we want is you. Evelyn is all you need to be.” 

Thinks to self,

“Is it really that easy?”

Not all borders are a rigid black line. Some are dotted lines. Fluid and blurred and

able to live within us.

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13 thoughts on “Born in the US. Made in Mexico.

  1. Pingback: Perplexingly Human | Make the Welkin Dance

  2. I had to comment regarding the last line of the Spanish paragraph, “y con eso me dio un beso en la mejilla.” According to Google translate it says, “and with that he kissed me on the cheek.” So this raises questions. Is this an excerpt of someone else’s writing? Is it something someone said to you? And lastly, not a question, but a comment. All I remember from my high school Spanish class was the t-shirt I enjoyed wearing that said, “Besa me, Yo Hablo Espanol.” (I recognized the one word ‘beso’ at the end…and a kiss always hides more than it is telling. So I had to ask.)

    • Nice catch! Thanks for asking! This was an intentional move on my part, so I’m so happy you caught it. Yes, this is all my writing by the way. I’m recalling what an Argentinian friend once told me, so I originally wrote that part in Spanish in my journal while I was in Buenos Aires. However, I didn’t fully translate it for two reasons.

      1) I initially translated the line before and after the quotes “He gave me a big smile, put his arm over my shoulders, and looked me in the eyes, saying…” When I added the “and with that, he kissed me on the cheek” (actually, I think I originally had something more like “then, he kissed me on the cheek”), it sounded more romantic to me in English than in Spanish. It’s not really common to greet a friend with a kiss in the US, whereas in most of Latin America it’s pretty normal. A Spanish speaker might assume we had a romantic relationship, but they could just as easily realize he was only a close friend.

      2) In the end, I chose to leave those details out in the English translation because I wanted to convey how certain things are lost in translation. There was a certain warmth about that friendship that’s hard to express in English, so to emphasize that point, I purposefully left it all out. Also, a savvy Spanish reader would recognize that the last Spanish section in quotes is spoken by an Argentinian speaker because it’s written in “voseo,” a lesser known* Spanish conjugation (i.e. [vos] ‘informal you’ instead of [tu] ‘informal you’). My dialect of Mexican Spanish doesn’t use “voseo.” Thus, the end of the post returns to the original setting: Buenos Aires. That’s why the opening lines read “¿De dónde sos?” and not “¿De dónde eres?” (I usually say the second form). That kind of dialect variation is hard to translate into another language. It’s kind of like asking how do I translate a Southern accent into Spanish? Returning to your question, those last words were the conclusion to the introduction, when all my Argentinian friends couldn’t figure out my accent or nationality. My friend told me that I had to just be myself. It was a sweet moment, but I felt a bit unsettled by it too. Hence the lines “Is it really that easy?”

      *By “lesser known,” I mean most Spanish books in the US don’t cover ‘voseo’ even though it’s a more popular form than ‘vosotros’ (which is pretty much only used in Spain.)

      Anyways, sorry for the lengthy explanation but I hope this answered your question!

  3. I dabbled in languages–not with anywhere the level you obviously speak Spanish. But I’ve always liked the nuances of words. I had taken the kiss on the cheek a little more romantically–which is where an understanding of culture plays a big role in communication. You might tell someone “He was a real Romeo” but without the context of the Shakespearean play and the modern interpretation as being a man who likes to romance women, well then, good luck getting that across in ten words or less. (Though, Shakespeare is pretty widely known, but still, you get it, right?)

    Sorry, sitting down to breakfast, so distracted by banana slices in Cheerios and wondering if my tea is done. Now, without cheating, try to figure out where I’m from in the states!) I’ll give you a hint, I often (pronounce the “t” there) sit on the Davenport watching tv.)

    • Yes, that’s a great example!

      Hmmm I’m going to guess somewhere in the midwest. I can’t narrow it down to a specific state but I think there’s a fair chance you also say pop instead of soda, and pronounce ‘caught’ and ‘cot’ differently.

      • Midwest is correct! Michigan to be precise. I heard an NPR presentation once on the unique words used throughout the country and knew that to be one from my region. Consider it my one linguistic riddle for you.

  4. Pingback: One Year of Blogging | Make the Welkin Dance

  5. You’re probably tired of reading my comments at this point, but anyway, I could relate to this too! I’m Indian and I’ve never stepped out of my country, but I learnt English by ear thanks to Cartoon Network and somehow it’s just so much easier to communicate in it rather than my mother tongue. I think the language just has a way of adopting people as her own. I struggle to express myself in regional languages, and always feel like I’m searching for the right word, the right phrase, putting up a charade.. Languages are so much more than just tools of communication right?

    • First of all, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of your comments 🙂 Wow, that’s fascinating. Thank you for sharing. I’ve had a couple family members who learned English through watchings shows like Friends. And yes, language is so much more than simply a means of communication. It’s so closely intertwined with our sense of being. Which is why sociolinguistics is one of my favorite topics to read and write about!

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