American in Italy, culture, expat, opinion, uncategorised

On Being Half-Mexican: An Embarrassing Confession

“So what’s your heritage again?” Caucasian, hispanic..?

Um I guess both.. 

“No you have to put something down.”

Um Ok “Other”

Sigh

……

“You’re Mexican right, I mean your mom?”

No.. I think she’s from Barcelona.. 

“Really.. where?”

I don’t know I think some small town outside of Barcelona… 

….

“Sarah…. Katie…. Allison….Dereck…. and um… George…georgetta, georgina? (the class giggles), sorry what is your name again?

It’s Georgette, you know “Georgette with a ‘t’ ‘t’ ‘e’ at the end” 

Ah ok, sorry… and is “Jupe” like “hupe”

no…. oh well never mind

[repeats every year until college]

Three separate conversations, but three that I remember quite well.

These are small, seemingly small conversations from my childhood that colored the way I looked at life.

The first: the much-hated “ethnicity” questionnaire we were often asked to fill out at school, the confusion of not knowing what “box” to mark. The second, an obvious question from curious people about where my mom is from; and the third, a common question one is asked on every first day of school in each grade from elementary to high school, “how do you say your name?”

What the above situations above show is that I was constantly uncomfortable at having to repeat the pronunciation of my name or as in the second conversation, straight out lied about where my mother was from because I just didn’t want her to be from Mexico. I would deny till I die, even my best friends wouldn’t question me on that even though t hey probably knew the truth. I should have been more concerned that I didn’t even have a mom around most of my life but at the very least the idea of her being from Spain was a hell of a lot more appealing for reasons that I didn’t even know at the time.

The thing is when you’re a kid you don’t know why you feel certain things, perhaps it is the product of the environment of where you live, perhaps it’s just you.

I can say is that I was embarrassed to be Mexican-American and I still have no idea why. Considering that San Antonio, Texas is very Hispanic,  in theory I was more “normal” than I thought I was, but I think I had these dreams to be a pretty blond cheerleader from the“North side”, the coveted gated neighborhoods surrounding 1604 where people had big houses, large yards with pools, college tuitions saved up, and probably, less painful memories.

I should say, this doesn’t even have anything to do with my mom.  I spent most of my youth growing up with my dad and brothers, a latchkey kid with dreams of the big city while my mom moved to be closer to her sisters in Arizona. At the time, I wanted nothing more than to be “normal.” Which for me meant a girl with a boring name like Jennifer who didn’t have sun-in put in her hair when she was five, or as I became a teenager, the need to get blue contact lenses because brown is so boring. Having a name like “Georgette” only further identified me as someone different, an old-fashioned French name that would have been like “Gertrude” in English. Every French person I know had a great aunt or some distance relative with the name Georgette. However who cares, as long as I don’t actually meet some French, Georgette can be as sexy as “Monique” or whatever else was in fashion at the time, only my masochistic self ensured that I would indeed fall in love with a Frenchman one day and have to explain to his family that no I’m not French, yes I have an old French name, and no I don’t know why.

Why am I talking about this on the blog?

Why bring up such a personal subject and especially during a hotbed of political turmoil in my home country of the USA? I will be clear, this isn’t a political agenda here, I like to keep my opinions mainly to myself, my friends and family; but after visiting Mexico this past weeks, I feel this matters enough to share if anything just for myself.

I often wonder what my problem was, why was I so embarrassed to be half-Mexican in Texas in a place like San Antonio where so many were like me? Was chasing the American dream only plausible with shiny blond hair and blue eyes? Obviously not, but try telling that to a grumpy 17-year-old in 2002. And sure, people made callous and thoughtless remarks about hispanics around me because they thought I was like them. This among other things meant that I didn’t want to be identified with being a Latina, I wanted to kick ass at school and not be lumped together with people I prejudged as mostly got married young with babies soon to follow, pushing large carts at Costco or watching coupon shows on TLC. I’ll never forget when I met someone from Texas in Italy who after their third vodka tonic and a shitty bar on Via dei Benci said “I mean you’re from Texas, you know how it is.. all of the Mexicans taking… ” I stopped her right there, I was so not ready for some bullshit conversation on a Friday night and said “look you really don’t want go that route, I may not look it but I’m half Mexican and besides you sound like a drunken asshole right now.”

My mom’s family lives mostly in Arizona, another very place very populated with Mexican-Americans and first, second, and third generations of those who crossed the border for a better life. Some were very fortunate, some less so though the family bond was very close with my mother and sisters speaking almost daily on the phone in Spanish. We used to go on 7-hour shopping trips and I would fall asleep in the aisles. It used to annoy the crap out of me. I did everything in my power to be anything but like her, I was/am always on time, kept my promises and tried to be self-sufficient. Now it just serves as hilarious stories for my brothers and I to talk about over Christmas.

Living in Italy, there’s probably more in common with Mexico than in the USA. People don’t mind beign a little late, they love long, lingering meals and hanging out with family. Culture reigns strong. Ironically, that’s where I’ve chosen to live, that’s what I now identify with most.

I once dated a guy who was very opinionated about anyone from another culture and constantly made slight-racist remarks to anyone that wasn’t of a heritage he respected. Naturally the hypocrisy was that he and his dad preferred petite females of the foreign variety and yet had nothing nice to say when anyone “different” popped up on the tv. According to them, everyone was taking advantage of the “system.” Said by someone who used to do medical drug trials when they were low on cash was pretty ironic.

I moved to Los Angeles when I was 18, with the guy and my best friend on some adventure to escape life and find another one. I wanted to prove something, make it on my own and live in a place that didn’t completely frizz up my hair like Texas (superficial I know but I WAS 18). I worked out every day, colored my hair and wore blue contact lenses. I was the person I wanted to be, or so I thought.

I gave a speech during speech class, it had an anti-immigration theme and I stuck to my treasured points. Keep in mind that I was standing in front of a class of mostly first or second generation Americans who didn’t have the best of love for me at the moment. After I finished my speech, a guy stood up and introduced himself. He had tears in his eyes and his voice wobbled as he said that I was right, to.. some degree. People should respect the laws of the land but that if his parents didn’t come over, he wouldn’t have had a future. He was the top of his class in his school and helping to support his family. He wanted nothing more to be American and contribute to this country. That was the day I started to open my eyes a little wider.

One of my best friends was a girl of Pakistani descent who I met in Los Angeles at university. When her dad died, she took over as the sole care keeper of her mom. Her paperwork was lost by the government at one time and she had to start from scratch, it was excruciating and she couldn’t travel out of the USA for some time. She would do anything and everything for her mom and her friends like me, a naive girl from Texas. It was another lesson in life to be friends with someone who had no family-friendly backup plan, no “plan b” no one to save her financially if she made mistakes or pay for her every whim, it was all her. Today she has a beautiful family with a guy from Argentina who himself is a “new” American. They have two beautiful kids and while I don’t get to visit often enough, she will always be like family to me, her generous heart traverses borders.

I’m an immigrant in Italy, you know. It’s not always fun, I hate the questura, sure so does everyone, but I accept that it’s all part of me being here and its taught me a level of compassion I didn’t have before. I’ve seen Americans skirt the rules here plenty of times, and only bother to get visas when they feel they have too, it goes both ways.

Funny enough, my dad is an immigration officer who has lived abroad and interviewed refugees, I have a brother who works on the border of Texas and Mexico. Thus, the question of immigration has forever been around me. In junior high when my dad did a naturalization ceremony for hundreds of new Americans in my school. It was a huge event and I was hugely embarrassed that my dad was going to be at my school and naturally it got a few snickers from awkward middle school bullies. But I was there too, and I saw the faces of those who endured god knows what to be in the USA. They clutched little American flags and pledged their allegiance to this country, tears running down many of their faces. Who knows what they previously went though to be there, in America, in my depressing middle school, in peace. It made me feel really proud about what my dad did and still does. I used to think that being strong meant that you couldn’t be weak, including showing emotion. Instead I understand now that being strong and being respected is to be a good person on the daily, which includes being compassionate and teaching compassion; knowing when to apologize, taking the time to listen and understanding those who are not like you. Now that takes balls.

He sat in those rooms listening to people plead their case to be American, he did his job so well that I still get emails from his former interviewees who go on and on about Mr. Jupe and how nice he was. I always think, how wonderful that they didn’t experience the horror that comes with people that treat you like a second-class citizen. I remember when I got my fingerprints taken in Florence, the woman scanning each finger scrunched up her face is disgust when she couldn’t get a clear print. “but your fingers are weird”- weird fingers that couldn’t fingerprint. Another small sting but those paper cuts add up over time. I felt like an alien but I just prayed the process would be over soon.

Another memory, the few times I would spend with my mom I would constantly be correcting her grammar; to this she would always agree saying that she needed to improve, speak better English. Instead Italian is my second language and I make constant mistakes. I remember running to the bathroom one year in tears at an ex-boyfriend’s house because his aunt asked me why my Italian wasn’t as good as her son’s German girlfriend. I stewed on that for weeks, it actually broke my heart because I was so sensitive about speaking Italian well.

Luckily, I got over it and I now ask my (French) husband to correct my Italian. French is yet another language I have to blunder my way through. Luckily that was the only time that has happened. Italians are so generous with us making mistakes in their language (my experience), they don’t say things like “go back to the USA” if you don’t speak Italian. Instead if anything they relish practicing their English with me and are decidedly kind when I say “penis” instead of peas or blunder the word “fig” (don’t ask).

The biggest irony is that if I’m embarrassed about anything now, it’s that I don’t speak fluent Spanish. As I struggle to learn French (which will be my third language) I can’t help but think of how much easier language learning would be if I just learned Spanish fluently. Of course, I can now, but my poor brain can only handle one language at a time. So once French is checked off, Spanish, I’m coming for you.

In Mexico, Nico and I got by all right. We did a tour only in Spanish in the area of Chiapas and managed to understand most of it though I have to admit Nico was better than I was. It did make me curse myself and the five years of Spanish I took, in the highest-grade level of course. If only I could roll back time. I learned so much about the many various cultures we interacted with during those two weeks. We dove into the delicious food (tacos, quesillo, mole, hearty soups, corn slowly cooked with pork bits) and drank smoky mezcal with a slice of orange and worm salt at sunset because why not, we’re in Mexico.

It’s clear, I no longer feel embarrassed to be half-Mexican, instead I feel really quite proud to be part of a culture where you can still see ruins of past MesoAmerican civilizations at places like Teotihuacán or Monte Albàn and one that has itself accepted so many other countries and cultures within its borders. I went to churches turn ritualistic spiritual spaces complete with incense and shots of Pox” (a sugar liquor favored by Mayans) and shared a laugh with the guys in the meat market in Mexico City.

You’ll see it all soon enough on the blog but thank you for now for listening to this story. If you’ve experienced anything similar like my own stories above, I’d love to hear about it..

Cover photo of me by Melissa of Flytographer in Playa del Carmen March 2017.

You Might Also Like

Previous Story
Next Story

17 Comment

  1. Reply
    Wynne
    17.03.2017 at 19:45

    Funny, just as I was about to like/comment on this post in FB, it disappeared.

    I can certainly relate to your experience of others’ seeming inability to pronounce your name correctly – what on EARTH is so hard about Georgette?! I grew up with no one able to pronounce my name, either. “Wine”, “Wayne” (really?), etc. A vowel w/ double consonants…how hard can it be?

    Sounds like you had an interesting childhood, and your dad sounds awesome!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      18.03.2017 at 0:26

      Help Wynne, I accidentally posted on FB when I meant to schedule it for tomorrow since I didn’t want to post something so heavy on FB on a Friday night lol! Let’s give people a break right?

      Thanks for sharing your experience on your own name, I can only imagine but Wayne? I mean come on! My name is actually a very old French name. My mom wanted to give me a very religious Mexican name and my dad refused so they compromised on “Georgette” (have no idea where they got it form). I did find out later it is very old fashioned in France and the funny thing is I thought “It doesn’t matter it’s not like I live there,” only to be now married to a French guy and have people curiously ask me about my name every time I go to the country, it’s hilariously ironic….

      ps. interesting childhood doesn’t even begin to cover it all. I’m going to need to write a book one day about it… functioning out of disfunction or something like that

  2. Reply
    Sonia
    17.03.2017 at 23:44

    I know exactly how you felt. I was in the same position. My parents would always tell us how lucky we were that we could speak two languages but I didn’t see that because almost half of my school were Hispanic and could speak two languages as well. How was that making me special when I was just the same as everyone else? I wanted to be different. I stopped speaking Spanish and only spoke when I needed to for work. Even visiting parts of Mexico didn’t help. It wasn’t until I came to Italy and had kids that I truly appreciated my heritage. Now I’m making sure my girls know that they’re Italian-Tex/Mex and that they should be proud!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      18.03.2017 at 0:23

      Ciao Sonia, thank you for your kind comment and reading this pretty intimate post! When we are young sometimes we are looking for a way to rebel and maybe refusing the language is part of it. When I was writing this, I looked up a few similar topics online and saw that many people have this sort of aversion to their family’s culture so I definitely know that I’m not alone but it is an interesting topic. I have to say this Mexico trip made me want to shout to the moon and back just how fabulous a country it really is, so much to see and not just the beach!

  3. Reply
    Abigail
    18.03.2017 at 17:49

    I really loved this post, Georgette. There’s so much misinformation out there these days about immigration to the US but many people don’t open their eyes to the complexities and backgrounds of non-Americans who want to move there or are already living there. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      19.03.2017 at 17:00

      I’m really happy you liked the post Abigail. I think the question of “what is American?” is one that I’ve always struggled with, though we of course are known for a very multi-ethnic background, in the schoolyards growing up, the beauty ideal isn’t always reflective of the cultures that surround us. I appreciate you taking the time to read this and comment!

  4. Reply
    Lisa Cherubini Diletti
    18.03.2017 at 18:39

    Georgette,

    Thank you for you honesty – reminded me of my own youth and how I have evolved. .I shared your beautiful and moving post on my facebook page along with the following personal “confession” ….

    .”Incredibly raw and honest confession by a blogger in Florence I follow frequently – Girl in Florence. So well written, heartfelt, and touching. Reminded me of when I was young being embarrassed by the fact that my father was 5 years younger than my mother, and that he was an artist and not your typical white collar professional – i.e., a lawyer, a doctor, a businessman, That I was 100% Italian with nothing else mixed in to make me “interesting”. I was always embarrassed that I was so ethnic looking and dark complected with full lips, and that I was never thin enough, often tormented by grade school classmates that I looked like Kay Ballard (who I didn’t thing was attractive). Yes, I can still hear their taunts 50 years later. I often felt out of place because I was not blonde and blue eyed like the women on the “Summer Blonde” and “Blondes have More Fun” commercials of my youth. I had to listen to criticism of “you’re soooo emotional ” with the negative connotation that accompanied their comment …when all I thought was that I felt deeply and passionately about life or about politics. So much stupid shit to be embarrassed about or hurt by – which oddly, in the end only made me stronger. Going to Italy for the first time many years go also boosted my self respect and my ego – as there was a country filled with people who looked like me or thought passionately as I did about life and who thought I was bellissima. It was a moment of “ohhh… so I’m ok, you’re not” to those back home! LOL. I laughed the time an American friend told me some other people thought I used collagen in my lips. What I hated about myself when young had become an object of someone’s not so hidden jealousy. How bizarre. And I ended up marrying an Italian man who was 6 years younger than me and not a lawyer or a doctor or businessman – just brilliant, funny, talented man who loved passionate, crazy me – black hair, dark skin, full lips (and now hips) and all. And I also came to realize how blessed I was to have a father whose talent reigned supreme above all others and who loved me unconditionally. Self awareness and confidence sure takes time to evolve.”

    Grazie!

    Lisa

  5. Reply
    Hermi
    19.03.2017 at 3:49

    I’m half Cuban half Colombian and I had the same problem you did…didn’t want to be half Colombian, but wanted to be more like my u.s.a. born girlfriends, still have that issue to date. Thank you for sharing this beautiful personal part o your life with us!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      19.03.2017 at 16:55

      You are very welcome and thanks for taking the time to comment, I hope things are a little easier for you now as they are for me now. Now multiculturalism should be celebrated, not divided

  6. Reply
    Orna O'Reilly Weber
    20.03.2017 at 10:08

    What a wonderfully, heartwarming post! Brava Georgette.

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      20.03.2017 at 18:47

      Thank you Orna 🙂

  7. Reply
    Judith
    20.03.2017 at 17:50

    Where I come from being French was the bad thing, and I’m half French. We didn’t have anybody else to pick on, and there has to be someone. There always was. I had a tall, blonde, waspy mother. I had tall, blonde waspy friends. All my siblings looked waspy.
    Fortunately I had a slew of chic, short, clever French aunts, so I decided I could be like them, because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get tall. They were riotously funny, and I never could manage that, but the rest is a doddle. I haven’t had a negative feeling about my Frenchiness in many decades and I think it’s why I have sought out the foreigner all my life. I’m curious and I am not ignorant of the world because of them. Now I’m the foreigner. Vive la difference
    Here the Italians think I’m waspy. They should have met my imposing mother!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      20.03.2017 at 18:48

      May I ask where you’re from? Just curious! I imagine this is something many people go through, probably even here in Italy too. No kid wants to be “different” especially when they might have heard adults saying unkind things about the people where they are from in jest. It sounds like you had some awesome people around you and vive la France! ps. your mom sounds like someone I’d like to meet

  8. Reply
    Judith
    20.03.2017 at 19:02

    I’m from Maine, where French is called Canuck. My mother is gone from us. You’ll be better off meeting me, I think. My mother was a tad oblivious, we were not even allowed to learn French with mother tongue folk all around us.

  9. Reply
    Bea
    20.03.2017 at 22:48

    Thank you for sharing this. I can relate to this on some level. My parents are Chilean and although we did grow up speaking Spanish, we were often teased by our Chilean relatives for being too “gringa”, while at home our hispanic friends teased us for being “not hispanic enough” – whatever that means. Identity is a funny thing and definitely messes with our heads, especially when we feel like we don’t fit into just one category. Glad you got to connect with that part of your heritage and hang out in Mexico with your family, I loved following your photos on social media! You dad sounds like an awesome guy. 🙂

  10. Reply
    Nathan
    21.03.2017 at 11:05

    Oh Georgette, just when I thought I couldn’t love you any more you go and write this. Did I know we were both Mexican Americans? I’m half also but never felt that connected to “that” side of my family. My parents divorced when I was young and I went with my mom, the white half. I had such limited exposure to the Mexican side of my family. When I did see them they always encouraged me to learn Spanish and I never bothered. Why would I– I’ll never need that. I kick myself daily now.

    Your trip to Mexico looked amazing and I’m considering really exploring the country soon myself. It would be nice to finally learn the language, learn where I’m from, learn more about my family. And- the food. Let’s be real. A lot of it has to do with the food. And mezcal and tequila!

  11. Reply
    Suzi Jenkins
    21.03.2017 at 11:36

    Ah honey, feeling for you! I get in a mess with just one language, and my own at that! – the number of times I get accused of being a Kiwi; it’s my London twang getting messed with by my Florentine crowd (England, Scotland, US, Ireland, South Africa, Canada, Oz and yes, one Kiwi!)

    Awesome that you got to know something about Mexico. Very awesome that you got to make this journey of discovery (geographically and spiritually!) at a young age. That you can be super-proud of.

    Everyone who reads your FB page knows that you Dad is super-cool! That is a fact!

Leave a Reply