“Since you have never been to Mexico, you’re not a real Mexican.” I have had many people, including friends, tell that quote to me. I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, but my parents were born and raised in Mexico, thus making me a Mexican-American. Since my parents are Mexican, I was introduced to that culture first, which included the language, food and music. However, if I wanted to be successful in the United States, I needed to learn the culture here.
It was difficult, but it is safe to say after graduating from high school, working as a security officer, getting my Associates of Science and maintaining a perfect GPA throughout college, I have lived the American lifestyle so far. On the other hand, I still practiced the Mexican culture with my family and friends. Since it was the first world I was introduced, I never forgot how to practice it and could act like a true Mexican.
Unfortunately, the only thing I was missing was to visit and experience the country itself. Since my parents couldn’t take me there, and due to the gang violence where my family lives is dangerously high, I have never got the proper chance to visit my other home, until now. It is the perfect opportunity because not only does all the study abroad programs transform a student’s life, the transformation would be bigger for me because I would finally be able to manifest my real roots.
One of the first things all of my professors said when they realized I was going to Oaxaca was to not try the food from the street. Since I have never ate food from Mexico, it could make me sick or worse. However, I have been eating Mexican style food throughout my life, although the ingredients come from U.S. soil. My parents are the one who encouraged me to get food from there because since I have Mexican blood, it won’t cause harm.
Even though it was risky, I did it, and I have been enjoying great food without any problem! I told my classmates, professors and host family, who were shocked to hear it didn’t cause me any stomach pain or problems. Some of the traditional foods I ate was corn on the cob (elote en palo), tacos and chalupas. I also tried two famous dishes served here in Oaxaca, which were Tlayudas and Chapulines. I was glad my parents were right cause it was proof that I am, in fact, a real Mexican.
It was obvious that living in Oaxaca was going to be different than living in Chicago. Back with my parents, I have air-conditioning, could run water and lights for a very long time and great internet connection anywhere with or without Wi-Fi. Right here, most of the houses don’t have air-conditioning, could use water and lights in a very limited amount and you have to be connected to the Wi-Fi to use the internet. I felt this was going to be the most difficult part to adapt because I was fortunate enough to use a lot of resources back home.
However, it wasn’t always like that. The way my host family lives was similar to the way I lived when I was a child. Therefore, I understand not everybody can have the many resource I have now and I can’t complain. I really don’t mind not wasting a lot of water or not being on the internet all the time. It makes me realize how lucky I am in the United States. Plus, it is a great way for me to truly take advantage of my time abroad and connect with the community here.
Since I talk Spanish with my parents, grandparents and best friends, I knew I wasn’t going to have a hard time communicating with my host family and the community. So far, I have connected well with all of my family because I grew up how to respect others and how to communicate in a Mexican way. Since I work with my dad at a Mexican restaurant, I learned how to talk well with strangers and have great conversations with anyone. My host family have even said that if they didn’t knew I was from the United States, they would have thought I was from Mexico.
In fact, many people from the street have assumed I am from Guadalajara o Monterrey. During my time mastering the English language and American lifestyle, I was still practicing my Spanish and the Mexican lifestyle. I’m just glad to see that my work has payed off, but I still have room to practice. It is just really satisfying seeing fellow Mexicans acknowledging that I am one of their own!