As our class comes to an end, so do a lot of indescribable and once in a life-time experiences, but what we take with us will be forever. If you’ve ever watched the movie Selena, there’s a line that resonates with me a lot, and as tempted as I am to say it’s “Queremos bailar! We wanna dance,” I won’t.
Approximately 80% of the students who were on this program were either born in Mexico, had parents who were from Mexico or were like me, whose great and/or great-great grandparents were the ones to migrate, leaving Mexico behind. We all have different understandings of what it means to be Mexican, and these short weeks in Mexico left different impressions on all of us. Having to “be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans,” is a phenomenon that can’t exactly be understood by many.
As a Mexican-American living in the U.S., I sometimes felt like an outsider in my own home country. Studying in Mexico, although I still felt like an outsider, at the same time, I felt at home. Growing up, I always felt like I had to choose between being Mexican or being American, and knowing that I was letting down one identity if I chose the other. Everything I have learned and experienced here has made me realize that I CAN embrace BOTH identities simultaneously, without having to put one over the other.
When you hear of study abroad, most people’s immediate reaction is to think of Europe, Spain and almost anywhere on the other side of the hemisphere. That’s what I thought. The beauty of being able to study in a country like Mexico, is that you not only get to learn about your neighbor’s history, economy, cultures and traditions, you get to learn a lot about yourself, too.
I mentioned in my last blog that there is a magic to México, and I still firmly believe that. For some, that magic came in the form of being able to physically embody and reconcile our Mexican and American identities in the form of tattoos. A handful of us decided to decorate our bodies with Mexican iconography, from the literal outline of the country, to the festive papel picado, to “The Nopal” card from Lotería (Mexican Bingo) and the Mexican Marigold (vital to the Day of the Dead holiday). These tattoos, each unique in style and personal meaning, are just another reminder of our heritage and the experience of spending a summer studying close to our roots.
Just like getting a tattoo, studying abroad in a foreign country, even one close to us geographically and identity-wise, still meant stepping outside of our U.S. home and comfort zone. I definitely wouldn’t say you have to get a tattoo to appreciate a culture, but exploring new places will definitely open your eyes in a critical way that staying in the classroom won’t allow you to. I encourage anyone who wants to study abroad to go for it and make it happen. If you can squeeze in getting away for the weekend to get out of the city, squeeze it in! Let unfamiliarity leave its mark on you.
This post was contributed by Veronica Rivera, a 2018 Global Ambassador.
Don’t get left behind. Read more about Veronica’s experience in Mexico>>