"Or are you too Mexcian?"
“Or are you too Mexican?” I must have heard that an infinite number of times growing up–or, at least enough times for it to be engraved in my head. This remark was constantly asked to my two siblings and me.
My aunt is cooking Bún bò Huế, an authentic Vietnamese soup and noodle dish. As soon as my siblings and I walk into her kitchen to greet her, she asks us if we would dare try her soup, “Or are you too Mexican?” I hear my aunts mutter in the background about needing to make a side of pasta for the “Soto’s.” Immediately, I feel my cheeks grow red and my face turns hot. Even if my aunts insist they don’t mind making something else for the three of us, I still know we are being judged.
More than anything, I feel guilt for my mom. She always accommodates us at home, making us sopa de fideo (Mexican noodle soup), pozole (Mexican stew), or even giving us a treat of champorado (chocolate rice porridge). She makes all of these foods, from my Mexican culture, and my nine-year old brain always feels she believes we don’t love her or her family as much because of this.
Why couldn’t I enjoy the pungent smell of Durian? Why did the taste of fish sauce, which is practically used in every Vietnamese dish, make me want to gag?
The most frustrating part of this is that I couldn’t control it. My siblings couldn’t control it. So why are we being punished?
I hear that question time and time again, “Or are you too Mexican?”
Perhaps I am.
Mommy and me.
When I am eight, I decide I have to bring a picture of my mom and me to school. Too many of my classmates are skeptical of me claiming to be half Chinese, including my four closest friends, who have met my mom many times. And, as ashamed as I am to admit it, the last straw is when my third grade crush tells me he can’t “like” me anymore because I am a “liar.” So it is a done deal—my decision is made.
My grandma picks me up after school, and I rush her on our walk back. When we get home, I sprint up the wide, carpet stairs in my home and dart to the hallway, where I can barely tip open the top cabinet. There, at the very top of the cabinet, is a dark green box filled with pictures of my childhood—exactly what I need.
I spend a few minutes dragging my chair from my room to the cabinet in the hallway. When that isn’t enough for me to reach the shelf, I begin stacking some textbooks on top of the chair. Finally, while carefully balancing myself on my trembling, skinny legs, I knock the photo album onto the floor. The photos splatter everywhere, scattering this way and that. I don’t care though because I need that one picture. I need it if I want anyone at school to speak to me again.
So there I sit, amongst a ton of old photos of my family and me. My grandma is very confused, but I’m incapable of explaining to her in Spanish, nor do I want her to know about this so-called crush. I search and search through photos, trying to spot a picture where I actually resemble myself. At last, the picture of my mom and me is in my hands.
My bright yellow shirt surprisingly compliments my mom’s favorite turquoise-green cardigan. I have my arms tossed around her neck, and she pushes her cheek into mine. I can hear my dad behind the camera, commenting about “his favorite girls.”
I feel so incredibly relieved when the photo is in my hands. I clutch it tightly to my chest before sliding the photo onto the front of my turquoise colored binder, excited to sport the photo at school the next morning.
The bell rings at 7:49 am exactly. I slam my binder proudly on my oak wood desk, not bothering to slip it into the cubby beneath it. My face beams as I wait for my classmates around me to notice the picture and apologize for calling me a liar. I slip fourteen glances to my crush on the right of me, slowly inching my binder towards him to get him to notice.
But no one does. Math goes by, and no one comments on it. The bell rings for recess and not one person stops me on the playground to ask me about it. We begin writing notes on the California Gold Rush, and no matter how many times I move my hand to adjust my binder, no one says a thing to me.
There are twenty minutes of the school day left, and I cannot handle it any longer. I turn to my crush, explicitly pointing to the photo, and say, “look what I found.” He looks back at me with a confused look on his face, and I see his eyes squinting beneath his extremely thick glasses.
I go on to explain that it is a photo of my mom and me.
“Who brings a picture of their mom to school?” I am mortified.
My peers continued to not believe me for the rest of my elementary school years.
My Grandmother (Mama), Tirza R. Delgado
17 years of age
Born in Mexico 1935
Language Barriers and Guilt
My grandmother immigrated from Mexico around the same time my two other grandparents immigrated from Vietnam. Learning a second language is very difficult for my grandparents. I grow up speaking broken Spanish to my grandmother–in return, she speaks broken English to me. However, I never learn to say so much as a “hello” to my other two grandparents, meaning I’ve never had a conversation with either of them.
My dad and his mom, my grandmother.
Not learning either language is my biggest regret. Because I am always around my Spanish-speaking grandmother, I pick up Spanish quickly as a child. Once she moves from my home, however, I lose all of my ability to speak. So as I grow older, I become more and more distant from my grandmother. I couldn’t speak to her like I used to—which is odd. I should’ve grown as a speaker, yet I fail and do the opposite.
One day, my dad informs us of the tragic news. My grandmother is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I don’t visit her much in the nursing home, despite my dad’s constant efforts to get us there. The few times I do visit, I couldn’t speak with her. I do not know Spanish, but she also does not recognize me.
The last time I saw my grandmother was on December 25th, 2017. My siblings, parents, and I are sitting outside in the garden of the nursing home–my grandmother is placed in a chair next to us. She goes on tangents about random stories and calls my brother “Timothy,” one of her other grandsons. I feel like I can burst into tears at any second, yet while looking around at my family, they are as jolly as can be. No one seems to share the same sadness I feel at that moment.
Visiting my grandmother on Christmas Day in 2017. This is the day I see her and the last photo I have with her.
I lived with my grandmother for ten years. I remember running to her room in the middle of the night to sleep with her. She would put Caillou on the television for me until I fall asleep. For lunch, I would always convince her to walk to “El Pollo Loco” together–it is our favorite place to eat. Or I recall her changing my sneakers into my Heelys after school, so I could hang onto the stroller with my baby brother in it and roll down the sidewalk with her. All of these memories–and the worst part is I have no way of communicating to remind her.
That is the last time I see my grandmother. She lives to her 87th birthday, but passes away in May 2020.
In February of 2022, I found out my grandpa had fallen ill. When relaying the news to my siblings, my brother flat out says, “wow, I’ve never had a conversation with him,” and that is the harsh truth for all of us; I’ve never spoken to my grandparents. I’ve never said so much as a hello to them even after seeing them a countless number of times throughout my life. I never learned Chinese, so I could never communicate with them.
Unfortunately, my siblings and I are anomalies in my family. My younger cousins, who are half white, speak fluently in Mandarin, so it really is only my siblings and me who have never spoken to my grandparents.
My siblings and I sit in a cloud of guilt at the dinner table.
Thanksgiving 2021 with my grandparents.