A look inward; deep down into the compressed maze of muscle, tissue, organs. I look at my heart and tug a string. A low note. Barely audible, but I can feel it, vibrating gently. I try to gauge what melody it belongs to and hope that it’s a happy one. I pluck again, and on the second listen I hear it. A melancholic song about confusion, shame, fear, longing. It’s a familiar song, but I don’t enjoy listening to it, although I know I should hear it more often. So I listen this time, making sure I pay attention. I owe it to myself to know.
The song ends and I think on it. My name. Yes, it began with my name. First, then last, repeating continuously: brandon mata brandon mata brandon mata brandon mata.
I thought harder and it sounded more: English Spanish English Spanish English Spanish.
Then: American Mexican American Mexican American Mexican.
I couldn’t make it out fully though. Trouble is, I don’t speak Spanish fluently.
“What are you?”
Mexican-American. Practically first generation. (Then I show the math) Mom’s full Mexican, Dad’s half, making me roughly three quarter this one quarter that. The fractions don’t mean much though. I can’t even roll my ‘R’s.
Speak Spanish to me. I hear the words and immediately I cannot interpret. Quickly, I replay the words in my head and suddenly it makes sense. It’s almost deja-vu. From the outside perspective I look lost for a moment and then reply “Oh, Im doing good, thanks” Most of the time I reply back in spanglish, some of the time just english. More often than not Spanish comes rushing out from someone and I only hope Mom is there to translate. “¿Porque no te hables?” Well, you see, I’ve been told I used to, but it never sounded that great, and I caught on to that. As a kid I decided “I’m no good at it, so I should stop trying” I didn’t want to be made fun of. Now that child’s fear has turned into this man’s stubbornness.
It’s too late now, I tell people. I lost it. In honest, it’s still because I am afraid. I am “75%” Mexican. I don’t want to be rejected by 75% of myself. So at family gatherings I continue to listen to the roundtable discussions of gossip and dilemmas, but I only listen and try to think of the words to say. Everywhere else, I make it a habit to find any connection to Hispanic culture. “Oh no, you don’t want to buy carne asada from Vons!” “Oh yeah, right, my last name means ‘kill’ in Spanish” “My favorite Mexican artist? Selena, duh” “Hey, illegal immigration is a complex dilemma, and I don’t appreciate you making it sound so one sided”
I want to know my heritage, to embrace my culture. I know it’s on me to make a genuine effort. I owe to myself to know. I’ll continue to play the song that I’ve ignored before. Maybe, the song is in Spanish, maybe it always has been. I aim to sing it one day, hopefully soon.