Skin: any integumentary covering, casing, outer coating, or surface layer, as an investing membrane, the rind or peel of fruit, or a film on liquid.
As human beings we posses different layers of skin and we are judged by that skin. First on the list is the type of clothing we wear, second comes the layer of epithelial cells that we are covered with entirely, and lastly is the “skin” that nobody sees with their eyes, but still perceives through every other sense. This layer can be better defined as our personality, traits that are molded and characterized by our environments. Our skin is like a canvas of our lives. At each stage of this journey our skin radiates a different story, or perhaps the first is just expanded. Amongst the passage of time, different scars, scents, tones and perhaps different pieces of art accumulate on our bodies and different experiences pile onto our inner skin, the soul. All these traits come together to build something so beautiful and unique, something nobody can take away: our identity.
Although my parents immigrated to the United States about 32 years ago, my identity begins in a small town and farm in Jálisco, México. Santa María del Oro, my father’s home town and la Mesa Prieta, the farm on which my mother was raised. My father’s family didn’t have much money, but they were of good social standing in his town. He crossed the Mexican-American border several times making year long trips to the United States to work. He labored long hours in different factories just to gather money to send to his incredibly large family. On his trips back to México, He helped my grandfather tend the cattle and crops. It wasn’t an easy life.
On the other hand, my mother’s family was dirt poor. They lived in a little shack in La Mesa, a farm which wasn’t even their own. Even though the chance of doing anything great with her life was slim to none, my mother did anything and everything she could to alleviate her eleven member family’s needs. She taught herself to make clothes and repair her own shoes; it was necessary since she only received a new pair once a year, if she was lucky.
I like to say my parents past is the beginning of my personal roadmap because they have so much influence on my character and not only that, but it wasn’t for this country, I could have simply said goodbye to my first language, my favorite artists, favorite foods and favorite colors. Born and raised in the Chicagoland area, I was raised into solely Mexican traditions; I don’t even think I knew how to speak English until I was four. Mariachi and banda was what I came into this world listening to and it will probably be the last thing I listen to before I die. I can remember my sister giving me a bath in the pink bathroom in our Cicero home, and together we would sing “Tristes Recuerdos” by Antonio Aguilar, at the tops of our lungs. It was like singing praise to one of México’s greatest musical legends. The feeling of music notes filling our lungs became more profound on our trips down to México.
The drive usually took about three days, but every “tick” of our digital clock was appreciated. My first few trips felt as though I was exploring a whole new world, one where to use toilet paper at the gas station you were charged two pesos (for five little sheets). This is a place where besides the dessert and the dirty public restrooms, everything was vibrant:the scorching sun, the blue agave fields, the hand stitched clothes, the papaya red and yellow homes and even the enchilada dishes looked artistic.
Upon returning from my vacations my skin had a glow no other place could bring. It radiated happiness, nature, family. It smelled of queso Cotija (what I like to call “foot cheese” due to its strange smell) and dirt. As unattractive as it all sounds, it’s a scent I long to smell. I assume it’s just a connection between yearning and something concrete. Since it has come to be a great expense to visit one of my great loves, I try to embrace it any way I can. My favorite and most convenient way is through my belly. I sprinkle some of our “foot cheese” on almost all our dishes. By rule, I will not eat beans if I don’t have any cheese. Since my mom knows how much México means to me, whenever she goes to visit my abuelita, she brings me back an authentic dress or shirt. Sometimes she even brings me some big hoop earrings to complete the outfit. Last time she was there she brought me back a white manta fabric dress with papaya pink, hand embroidered flowers. I remember an instance when my friends and I were sitting around the kitchen table and one of them told me she had been exploring my Facebook page. I have a few older pictures, some in which I embrace my Mexican heritage and look completely different than I normally do at school. Jokingly, but hurtfully, she said I looked like I had just jumped over the border. What she didn’t know was that it wasn’t by any means an accident.
In reality I have only been in México a grand total of about six months in my life, but just like a tree’s body is hundreds of feet above the ground, its roots still remain below the earth, anchoring the tree in place. America is a melting pot, and in some ways I can’t say it’s a good thing. Some people forget about their ancestor’s culture and ways. I say this because I have had friends who don’t speak a word of Spanish. A couple years ago I was babysitting this little boy, I always forget his name so I call him Chulo. I spoke to him in English the whole time he was here, but it never crossed my mind he didn’t speak Spanish. When Esperanza, his mom, came to get him I noticed something a little strange. She spoke to him in Spanish, yet he responded to her in English. I asked if he spoke both languages and to my surprise she said, “Yes, but he doesn’t like speaking Spanish.” The little boy was three years old then.
Not only am I proud of my Mexican heritage, I am also very thankful and proud to be an American. There are so many things I would never have had, had I been born and raised in México like my mother. Not only material things, but the freedom of being equal to a man, the liberty of not having to cook and clean just because I am a woman and the right to an education. I could have very well been like mother and only received three months worth of schooling. However, I now attend Lewis University and have the opportunity of doing something great with my future. It is my obligation to thank my parents for giving me the ability to live a different life than they did at my age. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I had to live like they did, but knowing what they and their families endured gives me a sense of humility as well as a sense of pride.
We may move to Italy or France and completely change the way we live, but it doesn’t mean we changed our identity. People may read us a certain way and we may feel different than we did a year ago, but our past remains and no matter how much we try to fight it off, it still shapes our identity, our character, our way of life.