I AM MEXICAN BY JASMIN OLVERA- DENA
I am Mexican
I come from a culture with roots so deep that mainstream society does not understand and calls our culture mythical. I am Mexican, I am not Latina, I am not Hispanic, I am not Mexican- American, nor am I Chicana. Pocha, Wet back, and Beaner are names that also do not suite me, I am Mexican. I am not Catholic, I am not a Christian, I am an Indigenous Mexican who comes from the land. I am native to the land which we walk on, daughter of the moon, the stars, and the sun.
Growing up, I was taught by the media a very wrong idea of what it meant to be a person of Mexican descent. My culture is often portrayed as Tequila, mariachi, mustaches, and ponchos, but we are more than that. We are not illegal aliens, Banda music nor machismo. My culture is not Catholicism, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, or low riders. I remember being in elementary school and learning about the caste system, this is where my identity search began. Our teacher had us do an activity where we mapped out what our family worked in and where we would be as adults according to this system. I could not have been more than 7 years old doing this activity wracking my brain trying to figure out where I would end up as an adult based on my family’s history. I began to search for my roots, I asked my parents about their work and what their parents did and went as far back as I could. I investigated history books and spoke to elders in my family to get a good sense of our personal family roots. I was so confused because it did not match up with what the media and society said we were.
I grew up in the Salad Bowl of the United States, Salinas, California, a place where only ‘illegals’ work the fields. These are the people of my culture who come to the U.S for opportunities and are portrayed through the media as illegal aliens who work the lowest of the jobs available due to their legal statues. My people can not be illegal on land which we come from. Our ancestors lived and thrived on this land before the Spanish came and created borders and new government rules and regulations. They created laws which categorized my people as illegals and aliens. Due to these new laws and rules the limited jobs accessible to my people is that of agricultural work, which is said to be of the worst jobs available. Yes, this work is physically demanding, and the hours can be difficult to work however the people of my culture have a deeper connection to this work. We understand the energy of the soil, the energy of the water, and the heat of the sun to work together to create nutrition for our bodies, our families, and our communities. There is an ancestral knowledge and understanding of what needs to happen for the food which they are working with to prosper and feed the people. We have agricultural systems that have thrived since the beginning of our time that has supported us in never killing our communities from hunger.
In my family we planted the three sisters, corn, beans, and squash and these crops fed us for the entire year. Not only did we have our fields, but we also had cows which the food we had fed them as well. I wonder how this part of our culture has made the mainstream media think our practices are so mythical and possibly fake. I assume it is because they do not understand it. My ancestors were scientist, astronomers, and mathematicians before these words had meaning to them. We have a calendar commonly known as the Aztec Calendar that is filled with information, scientifical counts and astronomy markers. I follow this calendar as it is the truest to the seasons and active elements in our environment. Our new year is celebrated in March, and we observe days of reflection where we are in silence and meditation. We have days of celebration for the different stages of harvesting, for seasonal changes in the climate but also within our people. We celebrate in community and have boundaries and respect for substances that are altering to our beings such as alcohol and medicinal plants. So, I wonder why this part of my culture is not shared on the front pages of the newspaper, or talked about amongst other cultures about us?
Has it taken them time to learn about the raw, authentic, deeply rooted culture us Mexicans have as it did for me? I began dancing our traditional Aztec dancing at the age of 7, the older I got, the more information I began to receive with my community. We talked about our traditions and our culture with such respect, admiration, and understanding that it was hard for me to comprehend why when I told people I am Mexican they assumed I was Catholic and an alcoholic. They do not know that Catholicism was something brought to our land by the Spaniards during their savage invasion and massacre of my people and our traditions. They do not know that my people were skinned alive, tortured, and killed if they did not turn to their religion. My people had no religion, the word prayer did not exist in our language, we did not have a God or goddesses, we did not have mythical beliefs either. We believe in nature, in the energy of earth, water, wind, and fire, in our sight, smell, taste, and ability to listen. Our way of life was and is very basic, so basic that when the Spanish came, our ways were understanding as savage ways because we did not kneel to a God or bow our heads to them.
So, when I am asked about my culture, I will gladly make the correction of the assumption that I am a catholic Mexican who is an alcoholic. I am a Mexican who tends to the fire of my grandmothers, caring for the healing of my community. My people have been through many hardships for 500 years and it is time for a shift in the view of my culture. We are Indigenous people who are scientist, mathematicians, politicians, astronomers, doctors, and healers. We are people of this land; our skin is kissed by the sun and our hair by the moon.
-Jasmin Olvera Dena