Like a good neighbor
I’m 39. My stepdad—who raised me—just died. This freed my mother to tell me (stepdad always forbade it) that the man I thought was my biological father all this time was not. The man who is my biological father is Mexican … totally (both of his parents were Mexican). He was married twice, and had seven kids other than me (five with the first wife, two with the second). It appears I was conceived during his first marriage, as he remained married until death from leukemia in 2008. He was a Hispanic leader in my metro area and even ran once for mayor.
What does finding out that I am half-Mexican mean for me? I don’t have a meaningful relationship with the man I thought was my biological father. In fact, this news is quite a blessing to me. But I’m kind of paralyzed by it all. Any suggestions?
—Brand-New Bewildered Beaner
Man, where’s Cristina Saralegui when I need her? The most important thing for you right now is to not blame the Mexican ethnicity of your dad for him having abandoned your mother and yourself—I hope and trust that you know pendejos exist in all cultures. I would also talk to your mother about why she held that information from you all your life, as I’m sure it’s upsetting. Was she ashamed she once shacked up with a Mexican, or was it an abusive relationship? Once you’re able to work out the personal part of your discovery—seriously, get at peace with yourself and your mami—then you can move on to the ethnic question.
The pregunta to then ponder is this: How does finding out you’re part-Mexi feel? Are you ashamed? If so, make sure to tell others that your dad was “Spanish,” and make sure to hide the truth from your children, just like your parents did from you. Are you proud of your newfound nopal en la frente? Then ease into your mexicanidad. If you have an English-language name with a Mexican equivalent, Hispanicize it—become a “Juan” instead of “John,” or a “Rogelio” instead of “Roger.” Wear a cinto piteado, but cover it up by not tucking in your shirt. Say “Latino” instead of “Hispanic,” as you currently do. Finally, if you don’t care either way that you’re Mexican, do what all other crypto-Mexicans do: Only become Mexican to get the secret house salsa at your local taqueria, or when the United States faces off against Mexico in soccer.
Why do Mexicans use the streets as a playground, their driveway as a futon and the ditch as a trashcan? I live across the street from 100 percent pure Mexicans who do all their entertaining on the street, making the vehicles drive around them. Is this something taught to them at birth, or is there a class given to them at the prepa (what they call high school). I just have the need to know.
—Vecino de Mexicanos
Dear Neighbor of Mexicans:
Crap labor and crappier living conditions for immigrants in America waltz together like Astaire and Rogers—remember slaves and their shacks, Okie farm workers in California’s Central Valley during the Great Depression, and the Jewish and Italian peons that stare balefully into Jacob Riis’ camera in his monumental 1890 exposé of New York City’s tenement slums, How the Other Half Lives. The immigrant high-density blues continues with Mexicans: According to The State of Housing for Hispanics in the United States, a 2005 study prepared by Carlos Vargas-Ramos of New York’s Hunter College, 12 percent of Latinos live in overcrowded housing (defined as more than one person living in a room), compared to 2.4 percent of the general population. Add to that the fact that Latinos usually live in neighborhoods bereft of parks, and be lucky your Mexican vecinos play in the street and not on your lawn. Better yet, be a good neighbor and join the pachanga!