01 August 2009

How Undercover Mexican Girl Came to Be

(Welcome to my first monthly column, now appearing in print in TODO Austin, which you can find in coffee shops and various places around Austin.)

I was born in the U.S. When I was four, my parents moved back to Mexico where I first learned to read by asking my grandparents to teach me the meaning of the neon signs along the streets of downtown Aguascalientes: Nescafé, Fanta, Bimbo. My parents returned to California only a couple of months prior to me starting the first grade. To help me learn English more rapidly, they placed me in summer school where I befriended, exclusively, the only other Spanish speaker.

Throughout elementary school, I was a shy child looking forward to spending entire summers in Mexico. In the sixth grade, I voluntarily left my mom and dad because I was convinced I was a Mexican national at heart—so I went to live in San Luis PotosĂ­ for a half year with my aunt and uncle. When I returned to California, I became even more alienated from my Mexican American peers; while they listened to Madonna and Michael Jackson, I listened to Timbiriche and Flans and wrote in Spanish in my private journal.

Then I moved an hour away to attend a college prep boarding school where my best friends were a Sri Lankan girl with a British accent who had grown up in Hong Kong and a half Chinese/half Indian girl who introduced me to They Might Be Giants and Dadaism.

After spending my childhood longing to be in Mexico, it had finally occurred to me that I was simply longing for culture. In fact, many different cultures. Throughout my teenage years, I wore a Jewish Chai, read Russian literature, watched French films, and admired Moroccan architecture. In the 11th grade, I transferred to a high school closer to my parents, where my Mexican American friends teased me for acting “white.”

Since moving to Austin over ten years ago, people have made anti-Mexican remarks in my presence, not knowing I was a Mexican. And if they happened to find out, they would say, “But, you’re a different kind of Mexican.” Even though I am light-skinned and I don’t wave the flag, I am highly critical of the proper use of the Spanish language and Mexican food that falsely claims to be authentic or interior. So, five years ago, when trying to explain my hybrid cultural experiences to a friend, I conceived of my alter ego: Undercover Mexican Girl. Stay tuned, amigos and friends, for more adventures and undercover tips.

sounds of Shand Walton and the All Amigos Club at Lovejoys on August 13, and at The Amsterdam on August 15. The All Amigos Club—fusing mariachi, rock, Irish, folk, and blues—are highly influenced by the Latin music of Ruben Rodriguez and his Guadalajara Kings, Noche Los Tres, and Trini Lopez, the Irish blues rock of Rory Gallagher, and the British folk guitar of Davey Graham (of Guyanese and Scottish

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