I am the child of immigrants and a first-generation student. My parents moved to the United States from México before I was born. They wanted me to live somewhere I would have the opportunities they didn’t have growing up.They wanted me to get a better education than they did. They wanted me to live a better life. My mother believed in my future and wanted me to have more than she did, so she sacrificed her comfort and, more importantly, her family in hopes that one day, I’d grow up and have the life she always dreamt for me.
It was hard for my mother to transition to the culture in the United States and leave all she ever knew behind. It was especially hard to leave her family and not know when she’d see them again. She was out of her comfort zone. She didn’t understand the language nor the culture, but nevertheless, she persevered. She found a job and quickly learned how to speak English. However, living in the United States took a toll on her emotional health. She felt alone. She couldn’t see or hug her family back in México, and she missed them. We never had the opportunity to travel back to México because of our economic status. However, she never regretted leaving because she recognizes that her children have more opportunities at a better life.
My Mexican Identity
Growing up, my siblings and I were surrounded by our Mexican culture. We grew up eating tamales, frijoles, pozole, tacos, and a variety of other Mexican foods. We grew up with a piñata at every birthday party, celebrating México’s Independence Day, eating rosca for el Día de los Reyes Magos, and going to endless quinceañeras. However, I have also grown up in the U.S. culture and sometimes feel like I know the U.S. culture better than I know Mexican culture, simply because it’s ingrained in the education system.
I identify as Mexican-American, but it’s an identity I have struggled with growing up and even today. I’m proud to be of my identity, I’m proud of my Mexican heritage. But growing up, I’ve struggled with that identity.Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t “Mexican enough”. I mean, how much did I really know about the country of my ancestors? I’ve only been there as a baby, but I didn’t have any memories of it. I didn’t grow up there. So did that make me any less Mexican? That’s something I always thought about. All of my other friends and family had been to México and would describe its beauty to me in detail. But I never had the chance to visit.
That is the reason I decided to study abroad in México. I wanted to finally see my homeland and see its beauty. For me, being here is a way to help me understand my Mexican identity. However, my mother was nervous about me studying here. She was worried about my safety and didn’t want me to go. She didn’t understand why I wanted to come study in México. “I came to the U.S. to give you a better life, I left México for a reason, and you want to go back?” she’d ask. I had to explain to her what it meant for me to be able to travel the world and especially how meaningful it was to me to come to México. Once she understood, she was still concerned, but she also felt happiness because I’d finally get to meet her family in México. She hasn’t been able to see them in 20 years, and every time we talk about me finally visiting my grandparents, she cries. Her tears represent her sadness because she misses them and wishes it was her that could go and see them. Her tears are also of happiness because she knows how special and emotional it will be for me to meet her family.
I didn’t know how I would feel when I came to México. I was nervous about how I’d feel once I got there. What if I had a bad experience and didn’t like it? But once I stepped off the plane in México City, I felt a wave of happiness and ease rush through my body. I realized I was home. I couldn’t believe I was finally in México. These feelings only intensified as my host parents picked me up in Mérida and drove me to their house. The sun was shining brightly and its warmth felt like a hug. I truly felt like México was welcoming me with open arms and embraced me like a mother embraces her child, with love.
My first month here has been wonderful. I feel like I am home. I didn’t know how much my heart yearned to be in México until I was finally here. Being here has definitely helped me explore my identity. Little by little, I’m getting to know México, well, Yucatán, and my experience in Yucatán has been wonderful so far. I’ve met such kind people that have made me feel welcomed in their home. I’m learning more about a variety of topics and I’ve had interesting conversations with people here about politics and the culture in Yucatán. Staying with a host family has definitely helped me feel at home and I’ve also been able to engage in meaningful conversations with them. Being with my host family has allowed me to get to know and understand the people that live here and their way of life. Taking classes at UADY and engaging with the students here has also allowed me to experience the culture and I’ve learned a lot just from being in the classroom and seeing how students engage with one another and hearing their thoughts on different topics.
A part of me definitely feels like a foreigner. In class, I can see that I’ve been educated differently and have learned different things. There are things I don’t understand or don’t know because I didn’t grow up here. I definitely stand out at the University here, however, a part of me also feels like I belong here. I’m excited to keep exploring México and learn more about it and about myself and how I fit in into México.
Carolina Rojas-Becerra is a Latin American Studies student at Colby College and studied abroad with IFSA on the Mérida Universities Program in Mérida, México in spring 2019. She is a First Generation Scholar for IFSA’s First Generation College Scholarship program.