Alexis Miranda Hinojosa Jarrett
Mi vida es una lucha de fronteras. I do not exist in either experience; rather I live somewhere in-between. I reside in the desert land between two familiar places. I know that neither one is exactly where I belong. Though I have searched for guidance, followed this star or that one, the correct path is unclear.
My identity is a gray area. Even my name feels like a sort of Frankenstein’s monster, an amalgamation of things vaguely familiar but not enough to recognize. It reads: “Alexis Miranda Hinojosa Jarrett.” Say it aloud, “Alexis Miranda Hinojosa Jarrett”. The stitched together cultures assigned to my person feel wrong on the tongue. My mother and father carefully crafted it through disagreement and compromise. It is a pretty accurate representation of me, a struggle between the borders of who I am divided by the dictation of others.
White men like to tell me who I am. They point out my light skin, my colored eyes, I don’t look Mexican, so I’m not a Latino. They will never know that my grandma has the same light skin and colored eyes, and that is how they prefer it. Their understanding is like a child’s pegboard; even though the circle can fit through the square hole, it doesn’t belong there. Others are more subtle. They are genuinely interested in my culture, they ask me questions and validate my point of view. These men love to remind others that I am a person of color, they show me off like a badge that proves how progressive they are. So often I had delighted in this attention, being recognized brought me so much joy, but it only lasts so long; now I can see it for what it is. They show me off until I get too loud, too angry, too emotional. Then they use my identity as a weapon. They question it to strike me down. These men remind me of exactly the things I am not and how ashamed I should be of that even in the most intimate of situations. Pillow talking, I ranted about my roommate using Spanish as punctuation when she wants to prove how cultured she is. “You don’t even speak Spanish,” he rebutted. I lied there naked in his bed, as he stacked the evidence against me in defense of someone he has never met. He is blissfully unaware of my silence. It takes most of my energy not to scream, but instead, I clench my teeth and tell myself never again. That is, not until the next wolf in sheep’s clothing comes through the door.
The incredible Latinas who break my heart, these beautiful women, who understand me so well will never accept me fully. Hoop earrings so large I could perch inside them. I lay my head on her shoulder as one of our friends tells us the latest chisme. She says it in Spanish to keep it secret from anyone listening. I understand every word, laughing along with their mean comments but I cannot contribute, not the way I’m supposed to. My secrets have to be shared behind closed doors. We talk about politics and the way our university treats people of color. They complain about the white Spanish majors, who get ahead with their language being praised for speaking it while we are judged. I chime in often. We are all in agreement until a mispronunciation or overstep slips the rug out from beneath me. At this point I tense up, knowing a sly comment or relentless teasing will follow suit. I can participate but I must never forget the way I look and the privilege my appearance affords me. Things continue as normal and they entertain my delusions up to a point. These incredible women give me a thousand tiny cuts and I laugh each one off, knowing it is not the time to speak up because our experiences will never be equal.
My family is like a pendulum constantly telling me to be more this, then changing their mind. The conflicting feelings have caused me quite a bit of anxiety. In a busy street, we stop to get un mango con chile y limon. My sister and I say mango the “white way.” My tio almost breaks his neck he turns around to scold us so quickly, “You’re not white, don’t speak like you are.” He spends the rest of the afternoon jabbing a finger in our sides and saying mango with the correct “ah” sound.
Every holiday takes place at my grandmother’s house. I have memories from every stage of my life, sitting in her kitchen with any given combination of my mother and her eight siblings about the room. Hot food and warm smells take up the atmosphere of the small room. I can not even count the times I have heard my grandmother ask “¿Martha, por qué no les enseñaste a hablar español?” This happens in the same room that a family member has come back with “you’re not even Mexican,” in response to one of my comments they did not care for. The smell of fideo, tamales and enchiladas cannot cut the tension. An hour from the border, in the middle of nowhere, the blinking red lights of the wind turbines surround me emphasizing the vast expanse of the land. I see where I came from and feel the most like an imposter. When I was young my mother told me to marry a white man. She said that Latinos would try to restrict me to archaic gender roles. The women served plates of food to the men before they prepared their own, they were meant to listen and not question. She had been married to a Latino; he was the father of one of my older sisters. She had never talked much about that past marriage but she did not have to for us to understand the roles she so desperately wanted to be freed from. Though my mother raised her four daughters to be survivors, to not rely on any man, the example she set was quite different. Still, she cooked all the meals, quietly disagreed with his politics. She bit her tongue because she knew how much better this was than where she came from. Even though she sat in silence, white men, to her, meant freedom.
I’m the kind of Latina you can bring home to mom. I’m the kind of Latina you are comfortable letting your guard down around. I’m the kind of Latina you can turn on and off. I’m the kind of Latina that helps you understand at Mexican restaurants. I’m the kind of Latina that passes the border patrol checkpoint without issue. I’m the kind of Latina you can ask, “Is that offensive?” I’m the kind of Latina that looks enough like you to trust.
The natural first reaction is anger. It’s an announcement I so often have to make myself, as the parts of my name that would say it for me live sandwiched within the confines of the disguise. My mother is a first generation Mexican American. She is the youngest of my grandmother’s nine children. My grandmother walked across the border with one of her sisters, going from Matamoros, Mexico to San Perlita, Texas. I think about that walk a lot. I have put it in google maps countless times, figuring out all the ways she could have walked. It would have taken them 15 hours, at least. I learned about their journey while sitting on her bed facing a dresser full of pictures. One of them stared back at me, a picture of my grandmother on her wedding day, she was 17, standing beside my grandfather who was considerably older than her. I was 18 when I first saw the photo and my mother held it up beside my face. Our faces looked the same, but our experiences could not have been more different. Every time I start to stray too far from my family or my culture I am pulled back by her. I look in the mirror at my grandmother’s face, and I think of all it took to get me here.
The validation I seek exists within myself. It lives in every moment that has lead up to my creation. Still, sometimes, I am shocked by their scrutiny. Why is it that I find myself so surprised? Afterall, I do not look like a Latinx person. When you live your whole life fighting for people to see you as you are, you eventually get tired of arguing. I will always exist in this sort of gray area, never really fitting into any category neatly. It’s not an easy thing to stomach, but as I grow older, I am becoming less angry about my identity.
Though I grew up around the Chicano culture, have seen and heard of the experiences of those dear to me, I will not claim it as my own experience. There will always be some cultural implications that I will not fully understand. I have never been judged for my skin tone, never heard those terrible slurs hurled at me, never been stopped by authorities because of my ethnicity but I know so many loved ones who have. My grandmother used to call me her muñeca de porcelana. My outward appearance creates a separation between my cultural experience and personal experience. I will never be judged by the same criteria as those who visually represent the traits attributed to the Chicano ethnicity.
As a mixed-race individual my end goal is a liminal space where I no longer fight for the acceptance of any one identity because I am not one identity. I will be both and inhabit my gray area like a coyote. I am the guide between lands, understanding the space between each place.
No one will cross me without retribution. I will no longer ask for the space I take up in either culture because a sense of belonging is never given or attained. But for now, I still linger on the feeling of being recognized for who I am as I sneak through the shadows between borders.
Alexis Miranda Hinojosa Jarrett is a first-generation college student from Lafayette Louisiana majoring in theater with a minor in arts, letters, and enterprise. Along with their passion for writing, they do much of their storytelling through portrait photography. They are bold, unapologetic, and sometimes even funny! Alexis has also had works published in the Trinity Review.