Growing Up? American Dream?
Growing up for me has been a constant moving forward, but not necessarily in the best and most happy way. I was born in Houston, Texas and was only there a few months before my parents decided to move back home in Tilancingo, Mexico.
Now what I usually tell people is that I was there for 6 years and then I came back to the United States, but it's really not that simple. While I was technically in Mexico for 6 years, I have a sister who is 4 years younger than I am and she was also born in the states. My parents traveled between the U.S and Mexico to make sure my sister was born an American citizen, because in their mind it is the only way to be truly successful in life. I’ll be frank, I see and understand where they are coming from and why they believe what they believe.
When I lived in Mexico, I could see my parents struggle to keep the bills paid and have food on the table. I would see how my dad would come back home from working out in the fields all day. My mom would stay home and do the cooking and cleaning like an old-school traditional way of living. I did think that was normal and I saw how my parents made it work, so that was one thing I never thought about or questioned. There were also other aspects of my life that I never questioned until I came to the United States and saw my life in a different lens. At just 5 years old, my grandmother was teaching me needlework and how to make homemade tortillas so that I could “take care” of my own family one day. I was also told I needed to know how to clean correctly, do the laundry and make sure I could cook traditional meals so my father would be proud to be raising a perfect little girl. Now this may sound old-school or even scary for some, but the true reality is that many parts of Mexican culture are based on very divisive gender roles. Even now, my mom still stays home and does the cooking and cleaning and my dad goes out and works. That is still very normal to me because many other family members follow the same way of life. I have had to juggle traditional American values and Mexican culture and their values.
I know that by living in the U.S. I have had a better education and standard of living than I would have if I stayed in Mexico. I know that, and yet I catch myself wondering what my life would have been like if I had stayed and my parents let us live like that. While I may not have had the same opportunities, I wonder if I would have led a happy life. Being surrounded by the mountains, living in the village, and then living a grounded and simplistic life. I obviously don’t know what could have been, but I do wonder.
Now that I am older and I guess wiser, I say that growing up in the U.S, has made my life difficult. I have had to grow up with 2 very different cultures, one based on individualism and the other on community and never leaving family. I have had to master 2 languages at a very young age and grow up faster, mainly because I did not have the leisure time to relax and have fun. Instead, I would sit at the dinner table and help my parents translate legal documents at the age of 7 and so on. I am also the oldest and so I always, and still do, have the pressure of being a perfect example for my sisters. I have done as my parents wished and I went to college. I am also trying to set myself up for a good career where I will be happy and comfortable so that my sisters can see what life should be like. In my parent’s eyes, that is the American dream they wish and want for their children. The pressure of having to complete this American dream and growing up in a way that makes it seem like the only way to get there has many problems. I say that because having to deal with so much intense pressure and stress, I was diagnosed with clinical depression in middle school and I finally got better in high school to where I didn’t need medication anymore. I also feel like one of the reasons I was so depressed was because I never felt like I belonged anywhere. I saw myself become a stranger to my home country, a stranger to the country I resided in and I felt lost. Throughout middle school and high school I was “too white” for the brown kids, but “too brown” for the white kids, so I was left out a lot. It did eventually get better when I made international friends through camps I went to or even exchange students. Although they became the source for most of my friendships, at some point I had to say bye to them and I was alone again, or at least that’s what it felt like.
I am still on the path to complete this American dream, whether it be my parents version or mine, I am definitely working towards something so I guess that counts. I am still young and learning and growing, I am not done by any means. I will continue to grow up, surrounded by new and wonderful friends in college and hopefully when I am abroad.