I hear it’s Hispanic Heritage Month, so I put up a quick celebration meme to show respect for my father, who was Mexican, but I feel weird about it. I feel like a fake and not really worthy of the honor, as I’ve always considered myself a “Taco Bell” Mexican, watered down by my Scottish/Irish blood.
My father was born in Texas and raised in East LA. His father was born in America and his mother was from Mexico. I am the spitting image of him, raised amongst white cousins with deep coal-mining roots.
I quickly became enamored with all the blondes and redheads around me and their petite upper bodies and chests, porcelain skin, small noses, and thin lips. They were my only reference to what a woman should look like — delicate.
My body and energy were never delicate. I was a big-backed, upside-down triangle with small hips and legs. My head was huge with a wide nose, high cheekbones, and a large mouth.
My energy was masculine, bold by nature, and I had defiance in my soul, a brash temperament and a cackle of a laugh from day one. My mouth uttered truths that children should maybe not know and certainly not comment on.
I simply looked and felt different, and I clung to my father as the only evidence that I was not adopted. I can only assume the reasons why my father did not share his heritage, culture, and traditions within our own family, but I felt ripped off for many years.
English was my father’s second language. I never heard him speak Spanish outside of the phone calls to his siblings and mother. He shared nothing of himself as a Mexican American outside of his enchiladas, chorizo, and menudo.
He could never fully make the “sh” sound, so I could hear his native accent as he would utter “chit” instead of shit, and renamed my cousin “Cherry” instead of Sherry. He presented himself as a soldier and Midwestern father but nothing else of his background.
I have a distinct memory: late in the evenings after I was already in my jammies and bathed, I snuck to the edge of the stairs and listened to my dad become a completely different person. Beautiful phrases came out of his mouth; he spoke louder. He was more animated and loose.
I had no idea what he was saying because my sister and I were never taught Spanish.
An awakening came when I was in middle school, after a few visits to California, when I finally met women who were just like me. They spoke with quick tongues, had loud and boisterous laughs from deep in their bellies, and ran chaotic homes with a steady rhythm that secretly showed who was really in charge.
My grandmother was a strong matriarch of a large family, and was adored by all. She spoke limited English, offered a formal Catholic blessing as you entered her home, and locked my mother, sister and me in a room away from the late-night shenanigans of the adults that lasted into the early mornings.
I was in awe of my grandmother and her strong, silent ways. I watched her prepare food. She had an entire cow tongue laid out for dinner and I asked questions about what it was. She saw the disgust in my face and warmed up a tortilla right on the burner, then doused it with butter and cinnamon sugar for a comforting snack. I wanted to be like her and felt connected to her deep in my belly. She was the touchstone for all things I did not know about my father, and I soaked up every minute in her presence.
English wasn’t common in the neighborhood of 3232 Winter Street, and our play area was a small patch of grass in the back of the bungalow surrounded by concrete. My cousins laughed at me as I preferred to go barefoot to the store. The language barrier didn’t seem to affect our playtime.
We were curious about our differences and celebrated each other’s presence. It was a world I had been denied and it affected me deeply.
Now, I enjoy the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, and I am just happy to see recognition of my Latin roots. Even though I feel I missed a lot, it brings me a piece of my dad each year.