- The Third Territory
My baby was born with a full head of black hair. I marveled at her, in shock after twelve hours of natural childbirth, running my hands over her tiny fingers and feet. I stared into the black pools of her eyes. My first thought as a mother was that she looked nothing like me; after all these months of connectedness, my body building hers, she startled with her individuality. Our blood mingled in the throbbing umbilical cord and yet she was simultaneously foreign: part me and part her own person, part Mexican and part Ohioan, born into a liminal space, which, through her birth, I finally called home.
Jorge phoned his mother at her house in the Sierra of Oaxaca, connecting our hospital room in Columbus, Ohio—with its daffodil brightness, its large, glass-paned windows, its fancy equipment, its waxy sandwich wrappers scattered around a huge birthing tub—with a tin-and-cement casa in the piney mountains. In Ohio, rain was streaming silently down the clear panes. In Mexico, I imagined it was hot and dry in midafternoon, under sharp sunlight and crystalline blue sky. His parents were on their patio, ripping tortillas into strips, sipping café de olla.
"Ya nació, y es morenita!" Jorge announced. She was born, and she's brown! Through the phone came little burbles of excitement and happiness. She was, in fact, reddish-brown, the color of a kidney bean and then, when washed, a velvety burgundy. Jorge was thrilled at her brownness, which he sees as an attribute of profundity and toughness and myth.
I was also thrilled, proud of her for this distinction and at the same time disarmed by it—from the very beginning, it was clear that she would belong to Mexico in a way I never would. She would carry in her veins a history intricately woven with mine but not mine to claim or own, not embodied in my hair and skin. She would carry in her darkness a history of my people oppressing hers, and of hers rising up, [End Page 34] in fiesta or protest, against mine. This made me nervous: not because I fear or disapprove of this resistance, but because it was a part of her and her past that on a certain elemental level would forever be unknowable to me—antagonistic, even.
Yet she brought me closer to it than ever: in a way, she infused my blood with sangre Mexicana, and like the recipient of a blood transfusion or someone carrying another person's kidney or liver, I could sense this foreignness within me, myself possessed of it in a more intimate way than ever before. It was as if it had flushed back into my body through the cord that bound us, but whereas it was her lifeblood, in me it was still a separate entity. It seemed not to bestow on me belonging so much as responsibility. I could not pretend to be outside of Mexican culture so easily anymore, could not unburden myself of implication or obligation, could not subscribe so easily to the dichotomies of tourists and expats, could neither worship nor disdain in the same way. I was in one sense liberated from the tired struggles of belonging; I no longer had a choice. Belonging or not belonging, I would have to show up over the course of the years, in much the same way that I did not have a choice about whether or not to mother: I pulled the tiny jeans off the wriggling legs, I pressed small, warm body to breast.
Mexico became not other but a third territory, between foreign and local, between home and not-home. I was neither outsider nor native: was this, I wondered, belonging, after all this time? Not a clubby feeling like that of expats swapping kidnapping stories over mezcal, not a warm sense of acknowledgment like getting nods from the same artists and waiters at the same bars over the years, not any distinctive inclusion. Rather, the absence of a clear other to set oneself apart from.
I first arrived in Mexico in 2004, on a $250 round-trip...