No Labels Attached

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Last year, I visited the Houston Museum of Fine Arts to see the Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910-1950 exhibit. I have to confess, the first time I saw this exhibit was in Dallas, but I loved it so much I had to go again when it came to Houston. I enjoy learning more about Mexico and my culture, and what better way to do that than through the arts! As I was walking around looking at all the different art pieces and reading the history, it made me realize that Siqueiros, Rivera, Khalo, Chávez Morado, Orozco, Lozano, Tamayo, all captured a piece of Mexico in their artwork. Through them, I get a sense of what Mexico was like in that era. A Mexico I know very little about.

I was born in Reynosa, Tamaulipas just a Rio Grande away from the great state of Texas, a state that has been my home for the past 18 years so about 67% of my existence – you do the math! Don’t get me wrong; I am a proud Mexicana, and I try to keep my roots a vivid part of my present. It is hard sometimes though. I don’t remember when I stopped saying that I was from Reynosa. Now, I notice that without hesitation, I respond by saying I am from Houston, or when out of state, I proudly profess that I am from Texas. Then, I immediately start bragging about our large food portions, our delicious Kolaches, Whataburger, Shipleys, even recalling the beautiful fields of bluebonnets in the spring. Does that make me less Mexican? It shouldn’t, but it feels that way sometimes. It is not that I want to break ties with the country that welcomed me into this world, but I just don’t recall much of it.

I do find myself reminiscing on the time I climbed that large pecan tree in my backyard. It had long, lanky arms reaching out to hug the sky. My cousins had talked me into joining their tropical adventure that day. I often saw them swing back and forth like changos from branch to branch, but I never dared to join as I was too scared and aware that my mom would have a heart attack if I did. That day was different. I must have been six or seven years old. Luis and I pulled a rusty, metal table from against the brick wall and pushed it right next to Mr. Nogal’s torso. I struggled to get up there, but I made it. We even had to put a chair on top of the table for me to be able to reach Miguel’s arm as Luis pushed me up unto the big branch that rested on the roof of my house. I was a little terrified while performing that circus stunt walking across the tightrope. It was all a lucid dream until I found myself stranded on top of the house, and I could not manage to climb back down. Luis and Miguel had moved on to their next adventure running and jumping to safe ground, but I was no longer a grand master of funambulism. My tio had to get a ladder to bring me down right as my mom was getting home from work. I still remember her petrified face as she watched me descend from a short lasting circus career.

Well you see, that is not a Mexican memory nor an American memory – It is my memory. I find myself in a place where I am too American for Mexicans yet too Mexican for Americans. Yes, that does remind me of Selena! I dislike people refering to me as Chicana. Although some people are proud Chicanos and there is nothing wrong with that, it is just not how I identify as. It feels as if they are ripping off my identity. Why can’t they just accept the fact that I am a Mexican who was forced to grow up away from her land but still a Mexican nonetheless. I am a Mexican with a different lifestyle and different life experiences just like many others out there. I have contemplated this issue for some time and came to the realization that I am ME. No labels attached. I love tacos, tamales y pozole as much as I love nachos, burritos and enchiladas. There is nothing wrong with that. I don’t have to chose between country or northenñas. I can love both! We get so caught up on labels trying to establish a sense of belonging not realizing that at the same time those labels are a form of division just like borders. Keeping us apart instead of united. Breaking us down instead of building a stronger community.

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I had a eureka moment as I stood in front of a painting by Juan O’Gorman. The composition of his piece made me think of myself and the history that is being created nowadays in this country. I am one story in a million of immigrants who call this land of the free, home. We contribute to building this society, but we also have a part of us that belongs elsewhere. However, those memories didn’t stay in their place of origin. They travel with us wherever we go. The struggle of keeping and letting go, remembering and forgetting, English or Español, fajita o asada, ni de aqui ni de alla gives us a different air. We are a whole different animal. We incarnate stories worth telling. Experiencias que deben ser inmortalizadas en obras de arte porque cuentan la realidad de una nueva generación. In this era of compartmentalizing, we are special category that spills over many subcategories.

I feel compelled to create works of art that tell stories like mine through paintings, memoirs, theater, poems, songs and now BLOGS! Hopefully, one day I too can inspire a creative mind to make a difference.

Thanks for reading,

Gabby Salazar

9 Comments

  1. I would like to click the “like” button for this post, but I can’t find it, so I’ll just carry on to leaving a comment.
    I hear an echo of your thoughts in my own mind. I feel a little lost/not really part of my origins, but my reason is because I have never visited my parents’ and grandparents’ country, plus the sense of loss due to not being literate in the mother tongue. It feels like I am losing my label of being in that culture, or that I have had something stolen from me because I grew up in a foreign country. And…if I continue writing, I will end up writing an entire post under your comment section so I will stop now haha.
    You have written a very inspiring blog post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow thank you for your thoughts thoughtydots. Please express yourself. I hope you do write an entire blog on this topic; I would love to read it!

      You are you and that’s perfect. I’ve had some people even my friends tell me: no you’re not Mexican when they find out I was born in Mexico. They say things like “you are too Americanized” “you don’t speak like a Mexican” etc.

      I did find that being able to go visit, in my case, Mexico after 18 years has started to slowly close that gap. I plan to continue visiting and embracing my culture 🤗

      Stay in touch, I am working on a blog about my first trip back to Mexico 🇲🇽

      Liked by 2 people

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