How My Mother Became Mexican

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The summer after my high school graduation, my mother decided to become Mexican. It was 1978. I feared she had lost her mind.

Fifteen years earlier we had immigrated to the Bay Area from Belize, a tiny Central American country with a decidedly Caribbean vibe. Growing up in Belize, my mother longed to be from somewhere she imagined as exotic: Mexico! So she became who she always wanted to be: a Mexicana.

During my absence she had begun watching Novellas, and the Latin American soap operas inspired her. My mother ditched her Caribbean accent and adopted a Spanish one. She sang boleros romanticos while cleaning the house. She befriended Mexican women.

At home, our conversations went round and round like a Mexican Hat Dance.

"Mom, you can't change where you were born. It's a fact. You were born in Belize."


"Beli-seh. It's Beli-seh," she would say, insisting on the Spanish pronunciation of our native country. My father just shrugged.
Sometimes, I would try to trick her. I'd research famous figures in Mexican history, and then I would quiz her. In return, she would warn me, Telenovella-style, of the terrible things that happen to girls who backtalk their mothers.

Two years later, my mother was still Mexican, and I was facing my own identity crisis. My parents wanted me to live at home to attend college to study nursing or business. I refused. I didn't identify with their definition of who I should be. They wanted me to be a nurse or businessperson. I wanted to be a writer.

It was then that I understood how lucky I was to have a mother who believed she could be anything she desired. Her metamorphosis taught me that identity is fluid. Growing into ourselves depends, in part, on our willingness to evolve. We must leave behind what no longer fits, and after that loss, discover a new self.

So I left home, worked my way through college and into a full and vibrant life. Along the way, I shed expectations for what a mother is, and how a mother should behave. I guess I lost my mind-or at least the parts of it stuck in judgment and expectations about identity and who we can become.

With a Perspective, I'm Joey Garcia.

Joey Garcia is an advice columnist and solo performer. She lives in Sacramento.