Origins

I always felt a strong kinship to my Latina side but I have to say I barely know my own origins. I talked about it before in a previous post but this struggle still bubbles up. Sometimes it gives me this immense sadness and other times I feel incredible anger. Regardless of which strong emotion comes up, I feel powerless because I look at my past self. The child I was and how I didn’t know what a torta was because I only associated tortas as Mexican sandwiches but when we were in Guatemala for the first time, they brought out this pastry. My younger brother Willie was the one who was most shocked and I barely remember it but it feels like these memories my brothers have are unlocking those dormant emotions.

What I do remember was feeling so frightened when we first stepped off the plan. I didn’t want to leave my mother’s side as she cried and hugged these strangers. I had no idea who they were, they ended up being family. There was no proper introduction, it was as if we were expected to know who they were. We were supposed to behave perfectly in front of people we had never met. It was expected that we knew everything about Guatemalans and their lives, yet we hadn’t a clue.

I still don’t and yes, now I am adult and a lot of it is within my power but it’s hard not to revert to that instinct I had as a kid. My instinct to stay in my comfort zone. As a kid that was clinging to my emotionally abusive mother. Now as an adult it is to learn and ask about other people’s cultures. I am intrigued by them but when it comes to my own origins, I have this burning shame inside that sits at the surface. It’s like I’ll burst into tears at the idea of even asking about any of it because I feel like such an imposter.

I know next to nothing. I get teased for not knowing the entire Spanish vocabulary. I am distant with my parents due to their toxicity. If I ask my family in Guatemala, they will feed it back to my parents and I really want to leave them out of it. I have this shit holding me back. I fight that urge to give up so soon but I am overwhelmed. I don’t even know where to start in order to unpack where I came from.

Twice

That’s the amount of times I’ve been to my homeland. My parents were born in Guatemala. I’ve discussed how it’s been about 20 years since I visited where my aunts, uncles, cousins and the final rest place of my paternal grandmother are. This week those feelings came up again. This avalanche of who I am, where I came from, who my family is… I know their names, well some of them. But who are they really? Do they share some traits with me like my stubbornness, my wild impulsions, my eccentricities?

People remember hearing stories from their grandparents at the holidays. Those same old classics. They know their aunts and uncles well, the loud one, the quiet one, the one who always eats the last slice of pie… There’s warmth and drama and sweetness.

My holidays and family gatherings were very isolated, somewhat cold. Forming traditions that were not really ours. My family never really had a core identity in being Guatemalan, we tried to embrace being American but that shoe didn’t quite fit either. Speaking mostly English, going to bed early on Christmas Eve, making a habit of not going to church and then when we did it didn’t feel right either, it was all just us trying to be this American version of ourselves.

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A group picture with family in Guatemala City.

I still very much identify as American but there are plenty of things that don’t resonate with me. On my Guatemalan side, there is a lot that doesn’t either. Even when we ate food, it wasn’t the dishes of where we came from–my mother disliked cooking. There are some things we did savor, these boxes of stew mix that were Guatemalan stews: Jocon and Pepian. My dad grilling, his steak never tasted like anyone else’s. We would eat out at Mexican places, I feel I know Mexican dishes so much better than my own.

I think if I ever have a family, how can I ever share my life, culture, and identity with them when I know so little. I don’t want them to ignore my side, the Guatemalan half because it’s not as exciting or well known. But that would probably happen because what do I have to show or impart? It makes me cry to imagine that my whole life up until this point has me trying to be the best version of myself yet… Part of my identity as a first generation Guatemalan-American has me only showing up as the American part.

So many people from immigrant families have such strong connections to their families (despite being miles apart) and to their Latin selves. A hand on their past and a hand reaching out for the future, my hands are just trying to search for parts of me that make sense.

I know it’s not too late to get to know family, I just don’t know how to make that first step happen. With all the ease of communication be it social media or messaging apps, I struggle with how to phrase the fact that despite sharing blood ties I barely know them. I feel pressure like, soon my chance will be gone and it’ll be MY fault because I couldn’t figure out the words, the time, or anything. It’s insanely personal and then my parents will find out, it’ll turn into this thing about my parents and it’s not even about them. It’s about family that they are comfortable with that were always at a distance (emotionally and geographically) from my brothers and I. One thing I am lucky to have is that my brothers understand the isolation and for both of them, it didn’t stop them for starting families of their own. They’re forming their own identities with their family, something new.

I’m not there yet but I want to be. A little bit.