A Taste of American Pie

A Taste of American Pie

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A Taste of American Pie


Sunday morning. The smell of flour tortillas warming on the kitchen stove would waft all the way to my room. I could hear the radio play scratchy ranchera tunes to which my mother always seemed to know the words. If I lay long enough in bed, my mother would walk in the room and try to wake me up, resorting to singing my name or an old Spanish nursery rhyme if all else failed. Ask me where home is, and I'll tell you just this. This is home. This is me. All I've ever known is Mexican culture. Both of my parents were born in Mexico, and I myself have never lived more than a few hours from the border. I've never known a Christmas without tamales or a September 16 th without celebration. But I am not just Mexican. I am Mexican-American. México may be home, but America is where I live. I find here in college that I am just beginning to learn what it means to be American. I used to think that I would find that meaning through a sort of duality; anything that wasn't Mexican or part of the minority would have to be American. Ironically, the idea of "Americanness" was closer to home. I've come to realize that to be American is to know and share myself.

America is a conglomerate of many cultures. As such, it possesses no single, distinct culture. There is no one overarching "American" culture that is independent of all those that make it up. The supposed "melting pot" of peoples is not exactly an accurate portrayal of America. This nation is dotted with cultural enclaves that nurture their own customs and traditions rather than fuse them with others. I, for one, would not give up my Mexican identity to become simply American. I am sure that many would agree that we are all more than American. Each culture, therefore, remains fundamentally unique, never really "melting" into another. To call yourself "American" is to recognize that you are a small, albeit integral, part of a greater phenomenon.

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America is a dynamic synergy of cultures, and all of us add to its meaning. How better to enrich this meaning if not to celebrate who we are and where we come from--to remember and to share pieces of ourselves with each other. Indeed, the beauty of this America is that there exists the freedom to taste and experience different cultures. We can celebrate our own cultures and enhance our cultural understanding of those around us.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my first concert ever. I had always envisioned this first experience as a crowded arena surrounded by smoke and illuminated by a spectrum of bright lights. As it was, however, my first concert was a country music spectacle at a small nightclub in downtown Boston. I had always badmouthed country music simply because it sounded whiny, and I would always get an unwanted mental picture of the stereotypical "hick"--not exactly the best reason to dislike the genre of music. I figured I would give it a chance anyway. When I walked into the nightclub, I noticed something I hadn't really expected. I was the only minority there. In South Texas, I could go anywhere and see faces as brown as mine. In that room, a sea of white and cowboy hats surrounded me. I didn't really feel awkward nor did I feel very much out of place. It was just a situation I had never been in. It was different. When the music started blaring, I found myself tapping to the beat of the drums and swaying from side to side. By then, I was just another listener getting his money's worth on a Friday night. I was getting a taste of something new, and it wasn't as bitter as I thought it would be. Even though I was immersed in a different culture, it wasn't as if anything was making me more like them. I wasn't becoming any less Mexican either; I was becoming more American. I felt as though they were sharing something that was distinctly theirs with me. It wasn't American because it was something different but because I made it my own, even if it was just for one night.

Not too long after that night, I found myself in the reverse situation. This time, however, I was on the other side. I attended a small Mariachi concert by some friends on my college campus. The venue was set up to recreate the feel of Mexico. The food there could have used a bit more chile , and the piñata was the smallest I had ever seen. Nevertheless, when everyone and the music were brought together, I could sense a very homey feeling. I knew who I was. I could taste it in the rice, I could hear it in the trumpets, and I could see it in the faces of my friends, my people. As I looked around and saw people who appeared new to the Mexican culture, I smiled. I remembered that night at the country music concert and what it was like to experience something new. I was proud to be sharing those moments with the non-Mexicans in the group, and I felt enlightened and blessed to have been on both sides of the situation.

I had never before felt so connected to so many people. We were sharing more than just music and good times. We were imparting to each other personal memories and experiences very sacred to our beings. The man who walked out of that nightclub was not the same man who went in. At heart, I was still as Mexican as I will always be, but the experience enriched my "Americanness". I hope that the Mariachi concert had a similar effect on those non-Mexicans attending. More importantly, I hope that people realize the significance of understanding their own cultures so that they may share them with others and induce the kind of cultural awareness that I experienced. After all, it is only through self-understanding that we can even begin to understand each other. We must know who we are before we can truly become Americans. Thus I say: I am Mexican-American and in that order.
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