Identity in a Sea of Ambiguity

Ashley Trejo - India


May 3, 2019

Hola ~ Hello ~ नमस्कार

In my life, there are few times that questions have truly stumped me and
left me scrambling to formulate a clear response. The majority of these
instances are linked to any question asked by TSA that turn me into a
clammy, stuttering mess for absolutely no reason. Although, I suppose all
the “random” security check really did a number. However, the questions
that I am referring to specifically have to do with questions pertaining to
language, culture, and identity. I did not give myself the space to think
about the interests of these aspects of my being and, as a result, have to
rush words out of my mouth. Well, at least that was the case. My time in
Hyderabad gave me the time to reflect on the questions that I never had
clear answers to and also the added vocabulary to add to my repertoire.

बोलो – Bolo (Speak)

My first month I was reasonably quiet; living with new people, in a new
environment, and in a new country warrants the occasional uncomfortable
silence. However, there were times that I wish I would have spoken up. My
host family at the beginning were under the impression that I was Mexican,
i.e from Mexico. I figured it has to do with my description on my profile
and clarified that I was Mexican-American. Nevertheless, they continued to
introduce me as an international Mexican student who would live with them
for the next 8 months. While this was all seemingly harmless, it caused me
to notice the inner turmoil of the way I identify. My family could not have
known that they had begun a cultural exploration that I would take home.
While that is all great, looking back I wasn’t I would have wanted to tell
myself “बोलो”. Speak for yourself but how could I when I didn’t even know
my own truth.

My senior year I shared a part of my Mexican-American childhood with my
school and this year wondered where that part if me had gone.

चुप – Chup/Choop (Quiet)

Thoughts began running through my mind that I didn’t have clear answers to:
Do I have a claim to Mexico? Can I call myself Mexican or is that
disrespectful, as I have the privileges of an American
citizenship/passport? Would people of Latin American consider me as Latina
as well? What am I- चुप !! I needed time and space away from my own
thoughts to reflect. Thankfully, I had all of Hyderabad to take up my time,
until I was mistaken as Indian. My racial ambiguity had always been a
source of entertainment to see what people would come up with next;
however, at this time my racial ambiguity was a reminder how my outer self
matched my inner confusion around race and identity.

See, prior to arriving in India, I had an encounter with a Latino who had
asked me where I came from after hearing me speak Spanish. Quickly becoming
flustered, I began with “Well, my parents are from Mexico but I was born
here in the states…” to which he responded, “Oh, so you’re not really
Mexican”. My identity had just been discredited by what I considered to be
a “real” Latino. My Mexican card had just been rejected. That encounter
left my world crumbling and had left me in an existential crisis before my
year abroad even began.

This picture is of my mother’s naturalization in becoming a United States
citizen. This signified the end of fearing being removed from her family,
children, and the country she grew to know as home.

बस – Bus (Enough/Stop)

There came a point where I recognized how far away from myself I felt after
constantly questioning my truth. Where I allowed my desire for validation
to speak for me instead of claiming myself and my story. It also helped to
have a friend to tell me “बस”. Enough. Enough of the questioning. Enough.
She said all the things I knew and it was up to me to believe. The
perceptions that people hold about me are not a representation of what I
actually am. I am not to be put in a box just because the world isn’t
equipt to broaden the world of identity. Self-care and self-love require
you to hold space for your own truth, even if it isn’t what the world
considers to be “true”.

Food has always been a way to connect; whether it be serving curry at the
table or making a makeshift tortilla station, love and culture are always
shared.

शुक्रिया – Shukriya (Thank you )

All I have to say to my experience is शुक्रिया. I needed this year to fully
accept the answers to questions the world made of me and to start seeking
questions. I was fully complacent, after being awarded a scholarship to a
private school, and thought that the golden ticket in my hand meant I
couldn’t question what I saw around me.

I have come to realize now that a part of me was right. I have no real
roots and that is okay. My family has roots to Mexico and from those, I am
able to learn the wisdom and knowledge they carry. Although my roots to the
United States are nonexistent, they begin with my sister and me; as well as
every first-generation born person in America that will be the roots for
their descendants.

Before this year I couldn’t question the intersections of race and identity
or the nuances of going through this world as a literal and figurative
world traveler as I couldn’t see it. My experience in both American and
Mexican cultures equipped me with tools to make a wonderful year living
with a wonderful family. I was able to regain my trust in my sense of self
and now will not becoming panicked by questions regarding my identity,
language, or culture. While my exposure to language and culture expanded so
did my appreciation for all India has to offer the world.

Thank you for a year where I was able to question my surroundings and also
myself.

Thank you for the diversity that India has to offer.

I called my mother when I arrived in Agra to show her where her genes, her
history had made it to; my growth is a continuation of the journey our
family began.

शुक्रिया

Ashley Trejo