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Home | Episode #12
Being the First: A Story of Gains and Losses
February 1, 2019 | Student Producers:

Nia Brooks and Noah Pallmeyer
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Being the First: A Story of Gains and Losses
Dr. Alex Mejia discusses the struggles of being both Mexican and American. (6 minutes)
Alex Mejia

“Despierta, Alfredo! Despierta!” Why was my mom screaming at my dad to wake up? It was three in the morning and all I wanted to do was go back to sleep. She kept screaming "Auxilio, auxilio!” And then, chills ran through my body as my mother screamed for help. My older brother also shot past the door. I trembled as I followed him. The last night, I remember my dad laying down on the bathroom floor with blood coming out of his mouth and my mother next to him, crying. I was 10 years old and my father never woke up. My father had died on Halloween, but it wasn't Halloween for me, it was Dia de los Muertos. Rather than a day of indulgence, it was a day of solemn reflection during which we pay tribute to our ancestors. Part of the Mexican Catholic culture is to accept that death is something we must acknowledge. It will take you to an eternal kingdom where everything is much better.

Going to church every weekend with my family and friends helped me cope with the loss of my father. Though I still hate Halloween, Dia de los Muertos became a date that I will never forget. “Sabes porque no puedes dormir en tu, en tu propia casa? Por que te portabas muy mal con tu papa,” my mother used to remind me. As if misbehaving with my father was the reason I couldn't sleep at home. According to my mother, the devastating experience of my father's death and my resulting fears at night had more to do with my behavior rather than the actual trauma of the event.

An invisible gap opened between my mother and me. This became more apparent the day I graduated from middle school. I had decided to attend high school, but in order to continue my education, I needed to move to a city, to Chihuahua, three hours away from my home. I asked my mother to help me financially so I could attend high school and even if my mother wanted to help me, she couldn't. Ever since NAFTA, signed the year that my father died, people from my town came to the US. They immigrated and everything changed in my town. My family lost most of the land that we owned because of the lack of subsidies from the government. We couldn't compete with the United States.

My plan was to move to the city with my aunt, maybe get a little job, go to high school, try to get into a good university or college in Mexico, but my mom decided to send me to California to live with a foster family. She wanted me to take advantage of my legal status because I was born in the United States. Work really hard, support my family financially, I had never been out of my house on my own, but I accepted it just like a good Mexican man. 

I hated that small town east of LA. I missed my farm, I missed my friends, my family, my mother, my siblings, my everything. As an outsider who didn't speak the language, who wasn't white, who didn't understand the culture, things were pretty rough. There was no respect for the other cultures or ethnicities. People asked me about my experiences in Mexico, but then accused me of taking advantage of the American system. I have never felt more insecure in my life. I lost my self-confidence and it took me a very long time to regain it. American kids thought school was a joke. They didn't realize how privileged they were to have free lunch. Sometimes I would go to school in Chihuahua and not even have anything to eat, a bus to take me home (I had to walk almost five kilometers to go to school), or computers where they could do their homework- I didn't even have a typewriter.

The worst part was that my teachers thought that I was stupid because I couldn't speak a word of English. They placed me in a sheltered class even though I could do math and chemistry better than anyone else in that school. That's when reality slapped me on the face. I started to view the world with a different lens. I saw injustice, racism, abuse of power. These reflections were born outside of Mexico in the United States. I was inclined to live the American life, wanting to make sense of it, but I still have many questions that I cannot answer myself. It's not because I want to identify myself with something or someone, but because I want to find the relationship between this world and my world. It is challenging to live in the US cities where the majority of the population is of Mexican origin. It's amazing how vaguely the Mexican atmosphere feels on this side, but it does not mix or blend with this world.

I finished my college education, graduated with honors, and obtained a scholarship that would pay for 10 years of my education, but I didn't feel special or very good about it. Was all this time away from my family really worth it? Now my family sees me as the American and my friends see me as the Mexican. And I know I'm American, but I'm also a very proud Mexican. And after all, I'm not different from my family. Yet, I don't really know where I fit in. My family thinks I wasted my time in the US for not taking advantage of my citizenship and working really hard and supporting them financially. This invisible line that divides two pieces of land has created a lasting conflict within me. I feel guilty for being an American citizen, for trying to mentally absorb this new culture, and for having opportunities that none of my siblings have or will ever have. And I feel sad that my family did not see me graduate from college. I feel that redemption with my family is far away, that the only thing that I can do is to accept the fact that living in two different worlds is all I have.