Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by xarkamx
Anyone who knows me today would be shocked to hear it, but I spoke Spanish fluently until I was six, the same year I moved out of San Diego county. I was born in a small city called Escondido and carried out in a rush, before I ever attended school. Though Escondido’s populationis richly Mexican, it was not the source of my Spanish knowledge. It’s all correlation–my grandma Martha, a native-born Mexican, spoke to me in her first language. Alone at night, I would recite my catholic prayers with the lilts and twists of the Spanish tongue. The ritual would disappear after I moved. I grew up Christian, discarded my prayers. Soon, isolation would greet me in my childhood town.
I spent my childhood in Temecula, California, a small town known for luxury wines and olive oils. For such a pastoral description, the town itself is pure suburbia. While the wines and oils wear the name “Temecula”, the grapes and olives are grown in the sprawling landscape that circles the town, Wine Country. Temecula is the corporate-run commerce center of the area. My earliest memories occur in shopping malls and car rides. My family’s living routine revolved around chain restaurants, beginner dance courses, and Stater Brothers grocery. In place of tradition and ritual, I engaged in popular culture and consumerism. I was the target cereal-fed, television-tuned, American child. I would age as expected, gravitating towards fast fashion and fried food.
Though I learned Spanish young, it is unfamiliar to me now. My school, neighborhood, and household spoke English. My father, also full-blooded Mexican, knows nothing of the language. My mom, who has known Spanish her whole life, did not teach me. And though she is technically fluent, she feels her accent is subpar. She hates to speak it to this day. I would forget the language my grandma kissed between my forehead and with me, the language died.
I’ve only been to Mexico as a stop on the Carnival Cruise. My family who’d lived there until adulthood could only speak limited English. My Spanish was just as limited. When I was small, my parents would take me to parties rich with tradition. As I cornered puberty, the parties dwindled. I remember tall aunts skilled at long, joyous mariachi gritos (yells). My Aunt Jen, a petite and thin indiginous-featured artist like me, took frequent trips to Mexico. Because we were alike, I expected to bond with her one day. I dreamed that I could take up an artist’s residency with her in the center of Mexico. And then, as soon as my skin was fatter than my bones, there were no more visits to deep San Diego. My family crumbled apart. All of these memories of community and jubilee will only ever be claps of dust between concrete stages of life. My mother and father are now divorced and the family on my father’s side, the ones I grew up with, are modern strangers.
“Mexican pride!” As a teen, the phrase would skip down my tongue. How could I ever claim to be Mexican without participating in the community? Without a family to visit or sing to me stories? My understanding of Mexico is baseless. I don’t know what Mexico looks like. Is it glazed clay plates of tortillas, caramelized chunks of red meat, a table set in colors of orange and hot teal? Or are these just the cardboard cut-outs my mother’s family has replaced our history with? I miss my dad’s cousins who screamed with delight. In place of those big reunions, my mom takes me to her sister’s weekend brunches. The breakfast burritos cannot compare to home-cooked spreads. Our Spanish words are chopped with American pronunciation. And in place of joyful yelps is a silence only ever broken with small talk.
I don’t judge my mom for her choice to only speak English at home, but I can’t help but wonder who I could be if I was bilingual. How much would I know if I could speak to my elders when I was young? I would ask them what kind of flowers bloom in their hometown. I dream the language could bridge the unbearable silence that drapes over the traditions I have now. Maybe we’d be able to give our fears out to song, to yell out color in place of our quiet. I want to know what Mexico genuinely looks like. I hear it’s grit. I hear it’s pure pigment. I hear it’s unconditional love in all seasons of life. I’ve seen it before. My aunts live with each other; My grandparents live with their children. Where is that love when I sit at Thanksgiving dinner today? Being Mexican should be liberating. I remember that liberation from before: the whoops and hollers that would escape the lungs of my aunts like pink birds in the sky. At night I hear my neighbors’ parties filled with those same screams. I wish to be another lung in melody. I wish to be a tone in the crowd. I wish to be colored pink.