[This piece won Third Prize in The Diversity Story Cultural Writing Competition - Middle School]
BY AILANI SEGURA
It’s a pitch black night, I can see stars in the sky and a faint sliver of a moon. Mariachi music is
booming from the middle of the park. I can hear cars on the street. Yellow taxis swerve in and out through traffic. I smell pastries from the panaderia around the corner, and I can almost taste the sweet bread.
There are crowds of people laughing, talking, dancing, and singing along the narrow sidewalks of the city in Xalapa, Mexico.
Saying that everyday in downtown Xalapa was a party, would be an understatement. No,
everyday in downtown Xalapa was a celebration of families getting together and enjoying the night.
I was 11 years old at that time and I was with my uncle, my aunt, my cousins, my brothers, and my mom. And even though I wasn’t perfect at speaking Spanish, I knew enough to understand what everyone was saying. The language gap wasn’t the only thing that set me apart. I had lighter skin than all the other kids, and many would point that out time and time again.
I would be lying if I said my experience in Mexico was all sunshine and rainbows because it
was not. My mom was white, and many members of my biological dad’s family would
underestimate everything she would do. From driving, to cooking, to cleaning, to how she
raised my brothers and I. My biological dad’s family were very old fashioned in their viewpoints. To them, women belonged in the kitchen, and men worked on their cars, and had jobs. The differences between all of us...were there.
Towards the end of my visit down to Mexico, I’d had my bad experiences...but also had
experienced some amazing things from my culture.
I had visited pyramids and climbing up them was something I’ll never forget. I got to see
traditional Mexican dancers with their colorful flowy dresses, I even visited a wildlife safari
location. I still remember to this day the joy I had going to a local marketia and picking out my very own coin purse. But... trips don’t last forever. On the drive back to the US, my mom took my brothers and I to visit a friend’s relatives. I remember driving to the small town where they lived. Their house was very small with two simple rooms, a kitchen, and a very small living room completed with an outhouse. When I arrived at their house, the family greeted us with open arms. Welcoming us with warm coffee and sweet bread. My family and I shared one room. The room had a small television, and a painting of a fruit bowl in it. The family was kind, and with the little money they had, bought extra food for us. My brothers and I took turns holding the adorable chihuahua puppy the family had. We went to a local river to swim. The water was clear and crisp. I gathered colorful rocks from the bottom of the river with my brothers. It was the perfect way to end a trip that had its ups and downs.
The aura of our stay versus the experience my brothers and I had with our own family... were
completely different. My mom had been so mentally put down, and had struggled in Xalapa.
While here, at another family’s house, she had felt welcome and appreciated.
The impact or ghost you could say, of our trip to Mexico was/and is still prevalent. My mom and brothers and I celebrate multiple Mexican holidays. One that remains special to me was when we made an altar for my grandma (on my moms side) who died of cancer, for Dia De Los Muertos (day of the dead).
I’m still figuring out how to embrace my culture, how to honor it. It’s... really hard. My mom raised me and my brothers by herself for most of my life. So, connecting with Mexico felt like
connecting to a dad who I barely knew. Mexico has impacted my life in so many ways, but an
important lesson I’ve learned is that I can't dislike or stop trying to get to know my culture based on negative experiences I’ve had. It’s taken me lots of growing, to get to the point where I want to learn more about my roots, and my family history. Because knowing your cultural identity is a journey to figuring out who you truly are.