- Los Perdidos
My father-in-law was orphaned when he was child. He came to this country from Mexico, looking for his family and, although he didn't find them, he created his own. He worked on the roofs to support them. Hot-tar roofing, in Arizona, in the summer, is one of the hardest jobs; the temperatures on the roofs can get to 135 degrees. Although he never had even a basic education, he was fluent in two languages and could do complicated geometric equations in his mind. He was curious about everything, and would go to the University of Arizona Medical Center to listen to the public lectures or to Armory Park for the Mariachi Festival. He watched the news programs from Mexico almost obsessively, but he never went back, not even for a visit.
Whenever my husband, Fernando, watched the news and there were stories about murders or gang violence, he would always say, "Please don't let it be a Mexican." He'd been born in Tucson, and his mother's family was at least fifth-generation: one side had a Spanish Land Grant near what is now Los Angeles and the other side had Native American roots. In other words, the border crossed them; they [End Page 25] didn't cross the border. His father had been born in the States, too, in California, although he grew up in Mexico. Still, Fernando self-identified as "Mexican," not "Mexican American," and certainly not "Hispanic" or "Latino" or even "Chicano."
Gloria Anzaldúa explains it best when she writes, "We say nosotros los mexicanos (by mexicanos we do not mean citizens of Mexico; we do not mean a national identity but a racial one). We distinguish between mexicanos del otro lado and mexicanos de este lado. Deep in our hearts we believe that being Mexican has nothing to do with which country one lives in. Being Mexican is a state of soul—not one of mind, not one of citizenship." I didn't really notice this passage in her essay until after Fernando had died, so I'm not sure if he would have agreed, but I think so.
If you ask our children "what are you?" they will both, like their father, answer "Mexican" without even thinking, so deep is their affection for and identification with his side of the family. "Mexican" even though there are times when, like their father, they don't feel "Mexican enough."
When my daughter was about five, she asked me, "Aren't you at least part Mexican? Just a little bit?" I thought about it before I answered, because you shouldn't claim what isn't yours. "I am inside," I told her. "In my heart."
I was always the one who wanted to go to Mexico, to see the museums and Frida Kahlo's house in Mexico City, for instance, and to San Miguel de Allende. Fernando would always tell me it was too dangerous. We had gone once to San Carlos, a small beach town near Hermosillo, with my family when our children were small. I remember when we were at the border, going south, while we were waiting for my parents to get car insurance, some of the Mexican border guards were asking us about our children, if they were both ours. Because Michael was dark and Kathryn light, this was not an uncommon question, especially in the '70s. After all, even though people had intermarried in the borderlands for generations, Arizona had not repealed its antimiscegenation [End Page 26] laws until 1962. No one ever thought Michael was mine, and Fernando was always afraid they'd think he had kidnapped Kathryn, so he never went anywhere alone with her. The guards also asked, several times, if we were married, and checked our driver's licenses over and over. Back then, you didn't need a passport and there were no identification papers for children. Their persistent questions made Fernando nervous. Finally, when they walked out of earshot, he said, "Don't talk to them. Your Spanish is so bad, you're going to get the children taken away from us."