“So where are you from?”
I can always sense when this question is about to be asked and my mind always goes into a rapid fire procession of thoughts: remember to say you’re Mexican but that you’re also actually from Texas, I mean you grew up north of the border after all but you go back to Mexico a lot, but yeah you act in a pretty Americanized way but what does it mean to be American? The whole region is America so say instead that you act in a pretty United States-ian way, but don’t forget the other stuff. Ok go.
I usually end up responding in a much more coherent way but it’s a question that I still have to think about even now as a 23-year old. I was born in Mexico but my family moved to the United States when I was a toddler, meaning that I do not remember ever living in Mexico. However, my parents always made a point to travel back to Mexico for my summer and winter breaks, so it would be fair to say that growing up I spent 1/3 of my time in Mexico. I realize now that constantly visiting Mexico does not replace engaging with Mexican history and culture, and it was not until I was older that I began to visually document the familiar sights of my childhood in order to make sense of my background. I will not share all of my photographs for they include family members and friends who were not asked for consent prior to making this post. However, I would like to provide a little bit of insight into the experience of an American, who is also a Mexican, rediscovering Mexico and her family history.
The view from my paternal grandfather’s house in Roma, Texas. The house, which belonged to my great-grandmother, sits on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. Across the river, one can see into Miguel Aleman, Mexico, a city that is also home to many of my family members. My family has been in the Rio Grande Valley for generations, including during the time that Texas seceded from Mexico and annexed to the United States.
Potosi, Galeana, Nuevo Leon. The photo above and the two that follow are photos are of Potosi – a small ejido in the northern mountainous region of Mexico. This ejido has been the home of my mother’s side of the family for generations. Potosi is small and many people here know each other by name.
Potosi. The church is one of the focal points of the ejido and has been the site of many of my family’s baptisms, quinceñeras, and marriages – including the marriage of my parents.
Potosi. ‘Tienditas’ are not hard to find around the town and are a source of income for many families, including for my grandparents.
Mitla, Oaxaca. I travelled to Oaxaca in 2013 for research, but made a point of visiting the region’s historical sites. Here, one can see Mitla, an important religious center for the Zapotecs.
Oaxaca, Oaxaca. During the middle of my stay, the city was preparing for La Guelaguetza – an annual event that celebrates indigenous culture.
San Miguel de Allende. A view from above.
San Miguel de Allende. An Easter tradition in Mexico is the burning of piñatas in the likeness of famous figures. The figure chosen this year in San Miguel? Donald Trump.
San Miguel de Allende. Taking in the natural landscapes that are found in the northern part of the city.
San Miguel de Allende. A vendor reads by his merchandise.
Mexico City. The picture above and the following are sights captured while I visited during this past Easter break. A performance that utilizes indigenous dress and music.
Mexico City. View of the Museo de Bellas Artes.
Mexico City. The informal sector is incredibly active in Mexico, but vendors must constantly move their merchandise in order to avoid crackdowns by the police.
Mexico City. A woman preparing quesadillas in a busy marketplace.
Mexico City. Graffiti seen that references the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa. The students went missing in September 2014 and the government has been heavily criticized for their handling of the investigations.
Teotihuacan. During our time there, we visited the Mesoamerican city that was once home to the Teotihuacanos and the Aztecas.
As I continue to revisit Mexico, the country of my birth, I will continue to document my experiences there. It is a country with a rich diversity of sights, environments, and people, and it will constantly change my understanding of what it means to be Mexican. But I hope to never completely understand it; I hope to always have questions, curiosity, and moments of wonder.
Denisse Garcia is a first year M.A. candidate at the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University and is also on the Transformaciones team. Her academic focus is on the intersection between political economy and social movements, specifically on marginalized communities in Latin America.