On the Border, By the Sea

I grew up along the border of Texas and Mexico, where two countries and a gulf meet. It’s the place where, 170 years ago, it was decided that my people couldn’t live in a shared land, and that being born a mile north of the Rio Grande River would give me a completely different life than a mile south of it.

Although being straddled on this artificial divide was one of the best things that could have happened to me, it has also been the cause of some of my greatest internal conflicts. Imagine going to school in Mexico and being told that the U.S. had stolen the land that is now California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. And then moving to the U.S. and being told that Mexico gave away its land willingly.

Who do you believe? Which narrative is the truth? Who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy? As a 10-year-old whose mind was not mature enough to understand the politics behind this situation, it was shocking for me to be told that everything I had been taught in school was wrong and that the history of my heritage was not as I knew it. But thanks to this exposure, I learned a variety of perspectives that exist and the ways in which each education system and society shape our beliefs.

At times, I found it frustrating to not identify fully with one particular nation. I felt out of place and even lost. When I traveled across the U.S., I felt very Mexican, but while traveling around Mexico, I felt very American. My peers would laugh at me when my Mexican accent inevitably slipped as I tried to pronounce a long word. My mom would give me a concerned look when I would make up words in Spanish because I wasn’t sure of how to translate it from English in my mind. She looked at me with such disappointment that I was potentially forgetting my native tongue.

There was a point where I thought it’d be best to forget about one of them and immerse myself in the other to eventually fit in completely. It was simply too complicated to try to keep up with both languages and cultures and people, especially when others expected me to speak for both. But soon enough, I began to realize the beauty that came with belonging to two different cultures.

Just like I can enjoy authentic tacos and tamales or roll my r’s non-stop for minutes, I can also enjoy the academic opportunities available in the U.S. and be a part of a diverse community. By being fluent in both English and Spanish, I can have a conversation with more than two billion people in the world. Growing up in a Mexican household allows me to connect with the entire Latinx community and living in the U.S. grants me the opportunity to voice my opinions and have rights as well as responsibilities.

Although at times I can serve as a representation of both nations—and it brings me pride to share my experience in them—I can’t always speak for everyone in them. The fact that I am a lot more familiar with their culture and ways of living does not mean I know everything about them. Both of my countries are extraordinary in their diversity, and I will only be able to speak for myself. I stand at an intersection that is too complex to be compacted into a single story. Just like you can’t assume that every American’s experience is the same, you can’t assume that my experience as Mexican American will be the same as that of others. Instead of using me to speak for everyone and generalize, let my unique experience demonstrate that despite the borders and senseless restrictions that separate so many groups, there is tremendous beauty in sharing our stories and connecting with those around us and across oceans from us.

Don’t ask me which country I love more because I will never be able to answer that question. I have pride in both of the nations which have shaped who I am today, and even though both countries have made mistakes and I don’t always support them fully, I am grateful I can be a part of both communities and wouldn’t have it any other way. I no longer feel ashamed for not fully belonging anywhere. Instead, I celebrate the things that make me different than everyone else—whether that is in Mexico or the U.S.—and enjoy my time in my hometown of Brownsville, Texas, where people don’t expect me to choose.

Aranza Caballero ’20 lives in Currier House.


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