“Cuando la ire a ver?” “When will I see her again?” my grandmother says with such despair as tears gather in her eyes. She’s holding my phone, looking at a photo of my mom. They haven’t seen each other, hugged each other, or held each other in 20 years. “No, creo que ya no la voy a volver a ver.” “I don’t think I’ll ever see her again.”
Return to the Homeland
Meeting my mother’s family for the first time in my life was something that I had dreamed about for a long time. My mother moved from Mexico to the U.S. at a young age, because she wanted to give us the opportunities she never had. Once she migrated to the U.S., she never came back. Although she missed her family terribly, she always knew she made the right decision. My siblings and I were never able to visit our family in Mexico and they were never able to visit us due to financial reasons and because they were never able to get a visa to visit the U.S.. My family in Mexico knew us through photos and phone calls, but that isn’t the same as seeing each other in person.
When I was deciding to study abroad, I realized Mexico would be the perfect location. Being in Mexico I could easily visit my family and I could also learn more about myself and my family in the process. When I first told my mom about my study abroad plan, she didn’t understand why I wanted to go to a place she had decided to leave for various reasons. But as she came to understand what it would mean for me to be in Mexico and what it would mean for our family, she was emotional and I could see in her eyes that while she was happy for me to visit and finally meet her family, she wished she could come too.
My family in Mexico couldn’t believe I wanted to go visit them and they were skeptical I’d actually come. Of course they wanted to see me, but they didn’t want to get their hopes up. But as the date came closer and they realized I was actually coming, they were very excited and nervous. They felt like they didn’t have much to offer me and were embarrassed of their living situation and of their home, a sentiment they constantly expressed while I was there. I constantly reassured them that I was comfortable and I let them know how much I loved being there, where my mother grew up and where my family is from.
Of course I was nervous before coming too. What would they be like? Would I fit in with them like I do with my dad’s family? Would they like me? I had so many thoughts running through my head about what my stay with them would be like, and I wanted more than anything to feel like I belonged with them. I was worried about feeling like a stranger, which I am, but I hoped that I’d feel like actual family.
My Mother’s Side of my Family
Meeting my grandmother was an emotional moment. We both couldn’t believe we were actually holding each other. It felt just like it always does when I finally see my mom at the airport after being apart for months, like being home. All of my family members greeted me warmly and hugged me tightly and I could feel how much they already loved me. As we sat at the dinner table together, they all agreed I looked so much like my mom. It was as if they were seeing her again after so long, and I think that made them even more emotional.
I genuinely enjoyed talking to my family and getting to know them because the more we talked, the more I learned about my family history and about my parents. Some of my mother’s siblings don’t look too much alike, but you can tell they’re all family just by the way they are and act. Within every aunt and uncle I met, I could see a little piece of my mom. I saw her in the way my aunt Sandra scrunched up her forehead and squinted her eyes when she was thinking hard about something. I could see her in the way my aunt Peppa told her jokes and laughed, in my aunt Rosa’s face when she couldn’t believe someone had done something surprising, in my aunt Erika’s hands that look exactly like my mom’s, and in my uncle Miguel who loves to talk just as much as my mom does. And finally, I saw her in my grandmother’s personality because they are both so caring, hardworking, generous, and beautiful.
Learning about my family history and hearing their stories about my mom has helped me understand who I am a bit better. Living in the U.S., away from my mother’s family and away from Mexico, I felt like I didn’t understand a part of myself. I didn’t fully understand my Mexican identity and it made me feel like I was only half of a person. I identify as Mexican, but I wanted to solidify that part of me. Seeing how they lived and the things they struggled with helped me understand how my mom grew up and how she came to be herself. It made me realize why my mother decided to leave Mexico, because she wanted a better life for herself and for her children, and she’s managed to obtain that dream. Of course, our life in the U.S. isn’t easy, but we are spoiled with so many luxuries that my family in Mexico doesn’t have. I better understand now what it means to be Mexican-American and what it means to be a child of immigrants. I understand the sacrifice it is to leave one’s home in hopes of finding a better life.
My journey began in Mérida, where I felt comfortable the minute I stepped off the plane. It was strange to feel comfortable so quickly, but attending la Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan and living with a host family helped me realize the similarities I share with the people here. Even though I’m not from here, I felt more at home and as though I belonged here more than I ever have at my home university. Then I visited other places in México, like Mexico City and Chiapas, which has helped me develop an understanding of what it means for me to be Mexican.
Throughout my time here in Mexico and especially with the visit to Zacatecas, where my family is from, I have come to find a new perspective on the complexity of my double identity as Mexican-American. Before, I’d feel torn between these two identities and these two places. I wanted to find a place I belonged in, and I realized that I don’t have to choose either. I can choose both and I can exist in both places simultaneously. I think at times I’ll still feel a bit torn between the two identities, but I think I just need to see it from a different angle. My heart exists in both places, and therefore I’m not fully one or the other, but living in that duality enriches my perspective on life. I’ve found a home in both places. I was nervous about visiting my family in Zacatecas because I was worried I wouldn’t feel at home. But I was greeted with a lot of love and I felt like I belonged, just as I belong in the U.S. It’s strange to think I’ll never fully belong in either place, but that’s the nature of a double identity. My heart exists in various places, and while it may feel confusing at times, I think it’s also something wonderful.
Carolina Rojas-Becerra is a Latin American Studies student at Colby College and studied abroad with IFSA on the Mérida Universities Program in Mérida, México in spring 2019. She is a First-Generation Scholar for IFSA’s First Generation College Scholarship program.