Over on SFFWorld.com there’s a discussion going on about US Tropes. It’s spilled over to American culture and culture in general. The whole thing got started by this writer who ranted against the American big-box story mill called Hollywood and how it influences all stories told throughout the world.
The whole thing got me thinking about my culture. Just what is it? Do I have one?
I am, technically, I suppose, a Texan-Mayan-Mexican American. My mother is from Texas (really, a country of its own), but she’s from a bitty town called San Ygnacio where I never met anyone that spoke English. Many a Christmas was spent down by the Rio Grande, looking across at the Mexicans on the other side. It never occurred to me that “over there” was a different country with an entirely different culture. Because I grew up in Fresno, California, San Ygnacio was completely foreign to me. I figured Mexico was the same – the same as San Ygnacio.
My father is from Mexico. No where in particular in that country, just Mexico. His family had always been nomads, working the land where ever they could – didn’t matter which side of the border. As Mayans, my father’s family adhered to a mix of indigenous spiritual beliefs and a literal, fire-and-brimstone kind of Christianity that pretty much required that they remain outcasts where ever they went.
Mix in a strong passion for the American dream and you have our family – one big cake mix of Spanish-descent Texan attitude, Mayan-Mexican ingenuity and indigenous baggage, along with an icing of vanilla-California-Republican hard-working overachiever.
I remember after a particularly large quake in the 1970s, my Mexican grandmother warned us to heed our parents lest the earth crack open to reveal the Devil coming up from the fiery depths to claim us as his bride. Told to us while we watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
My Texan grandfather taught me how to skin a snake and rabbit, and how to say my first complete English sentence: “Preddy darn good.” He also thought I was crazy because I didn’t want him to kill the lambs we had for Christmas dinner every year (I’m a vegan). Whenever I would complain (read: hang on to the lambs neck till they pried my sweaty arms away), he’d look to my mother and say, “What’s wrong with her?” He always thought that living in California did something strange to our brains. He never failed to point out my behavior as proof that we should all move back to Texas. 🙄
Once I left home for college, I completely embraced California culture. I didn’t do it on purpose. It just happened. I was too busy working through college and racing on the U.C. Davis Cycling Team. I had a lot of friends who worked hard on minority rights and I would support them when I could, but keeping up my Latino culture just wasn’t a priority for me. Then I moved to the mountains (think: a sea of white – snow and people), and my work became my life.
How could it not? I was working on a forestry crew that left me dead tired at night and all we looked forward to was fire season: when we would get the chance to set the forest afire and get paid for it. 😀
I ended up meeting another left-wing vegetarian who miraculously had very similar views on politics, religion, parenting, fun activities, monogamy and just about everything else. I ended up marrying a Scottish-French, COMPLETELY white guy from New Zealand with an accent so heavy my mother said, “He’s more of a wet-back than your father!”
Well, yeah, my hubby had a larger body of water to cross to get here, didn’t he? 😉
So what makes me American?
I don’t know.
I live here. I work here. I care about this land and the people around me. In the end, that’s all that really matters.
The other day, we went north, up to a little town to attend a tour of a geothermal energy plant. The power plant was taking advantage of a small parade the local town held every year in celebration of spring and oranges (strange combination, I know). Anyway, while we waited for the tour bus, the participates of the parade moved along the back road we stood on. A contingent of Mexican and Mexican-descent horse-riders went by on Spanish jennets with elaborate costumes on both the riders and horses. Many of them held American flags, and spoke Spanglish. While they pranced on by, a lady on a bike sped along beside them tooting her horn.
I couldn’t help but feel a tug of recognition. Now that’s California.