The infinite faces of México
By Dr. Cristina Cleveland
When I moved to Waco, coming from Mexico City (the biggest and most populated city in the world), the warmth and kindness from Texans (specifically Wacoans) took me by surprise. As a new mother of twins, overwhelmed just to think about doing groceries, I would find myself standing in the line at HEB stunned by people always trying to help me, either with the babies or with my own bags. At the beginning I found this very odd. Now I feel guilty for those unfriendly looks I gave to people trying to say “I don’t need your help, and stay away from my babies.” With time I found out that is just the way Texans are, welcoming, kind, caring and aware of other people’s needs. That has helped me a lot not to miss my beloved country as much I thought I would.
One of the most funny things that happened to me when I was introduced to new people was the normal and expected question “Where are you from?” (From my strong accent you can figure it out right away I’m an outsider.) I would reply with a big smile on my face “from Mexico!” like it was obvious. Not once, not twice, but many times, I heard the reply, “But, you don’t look Mexican.” I was curious enough to ask, “Where did you think I was from?” The answers were all over the place …Italian, Brazilian, Portuguese, Peruvian, Lebanese and so on … At some point I got a little bit of healthy worry about that.
Why can’t people see immediately that I am from Mexico? The answer is because Mexico has infinite faces.
I will try not to overwhelm you with data, but I would like to share with you why being Mexican, for me, represents being a part of a rich culture more than a race.
Most Mexicans are “mestizos” which means we are a “product” of a mixture between Europeans and Mexican Natives (wrongly called Indians). Most of the European heritage comes from Spain, but remember, Spain was invaded by Muslim Moors from 711 to 1492, and a minority of Muslims persisted until 1609 when they were expelled from Spain. During that period of time they had their own “mestizaje.”
Other European influences to “mestizaje” are Germany, France, Portugal, Italy and Ireland, and even small contributions from Sweden, Poland, Greece, England and Russia. Mestizos also have Jewish heritage since the first colonies were settled in Mexico. There were even some North Africans and Arabs in the mix.
Mexico got its Independence from Spain in 1821, but France invaded Mexico in 1861. The French even named a Mexican Emperor, who, by the way, was never recognized as a legitimate Mexican governor. The French left in 1866. Austrians and Belgians arrived by thousands. Another exodus occurred during the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, when Spaniards were welcome to rebuild their lives in Mexico.
During the Cold War from 1947 to 1991, Mexico was refuge to many Europeans. Mexico has also been a destination for Mennonites from Canada, Sweden, Germany and Holland. Russians, Scots and Italians have founded their own big towns in Mexico, and the “mestizaje” keeps growing.
Now, let’s come back to Mexican Natives. When the Spaniards arrived they found multiple cultures. The most important were the Mexicas or Aztecas, Perépechas, Zapotecos, Tarahumaras, Otomíes, Seris, Mayos (don’t get confused with Mayas), Lacandones, Olmecas, Tehotihuacanos and Mayas.
I hope by now you are not dizzy trying to figure all this out. We Mexicans have this extremely unique pool of genes, that makes us just unidentifiable in terms of physical features.
There is a Genomic Project developed in Mexico that can show us the exact percentages of our ancestry. But, I don’t want to know how much I am from Spain, Sweden, Teotihuacan or Asia. I identify with Mexico. I was born and raised there, and for most of my life I was surrounded by Mexican culture in language, music, gastronomy, clothes, art and hospitality. That’s why I am proudly Mexican.
So, next time you are introduced to a Mexican, don’t be surprised about their looks, but most important, don’t try to figure it out where their genes are coming from!
This Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Dr. Cristina Cleveland. Cristina was born and raised in Mexico City. She’s a Pediatric Neurologist and when she moved to Waco back in 2008, she was planning to be a stay-home-mother of their now 7-years-old-twins. Things changed (as usual) and now, after getting a Master’s Degree in Education, she works for the Foreign Language Department in Waco ISD. In her spare time you can see her driving her twins to the library, karate, soccer, swimming and art classes. If she could just get a “time out,” she would probably be walking, swimming, reading or watching a foreign movie.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.