As first-generation citizens, there is this disconnection with our culture. There is a sense of pride and missing knowledge that causes this disconnection. When parents migrate to a new country, they begin to assimilate because life in Mexico is not the same as life in the U.S. Therefore, children from immigrant parents begin to identify more with their surrounding cultural environment. After attending the Guelaguetza festival, I learned about Oaxacan culture, which was a shock. I realize I do not connect with my own culture, unlike my parents or older siblings who were born in Mexico. I was introduced to a whole new world that feels like I am supposed to connect with, but I did not.
When I was ten years old, my parents decided to go to the Guelaguezta festival in Lincoln Park, located in Los Angeles. At the time, I thought it was similar to the annual festival done on Olvera Street (also in Los Angeles) for Mexican Independence Day. At the time, I knew the basis of Mexican culture. For example, birthday parties entailed a variety of food, Spanish music, and piñatas. The day of the festival in Lincoln Park, I remember the summer heat felt like it would never end. People were waiting almost on top of each other to get in; my family remained in the car until people passed through the gates. My family is also very claustrophobic, and with the summer heat, it was better to wait for everyone to get in before we did. After everyone was in, I stepped into a whole new world–one I was not too familiar with. I had knowledge of my parent’s Oaxacan background, but I did not know the true meaning of their culture. I never questioned festivities or food because we are taught not to and taught just to look. Stepping through the gates, a decorative banner read “Bienvenidos a La Guelaguetza 2011,” promoting preservation of Oaxacan culture (Organización Regional de Oaxaca ORO). This was a welcoming sign to the world I had a disconnection to.
My only knowledge about my parent’s background was that they were from Zimaltlan de Alvarez, Oaxaca, Mexico. Also, I knew little about the indigenous culture that ran on my mother’s side and about the previous generations that came before her. I did know, however, that they did not follow aspects of indigenous culture. Therefore, there was already a disconnection to begin with. When walking into the festival, tents were set up in the shape of a giant circle, making visible a stage toward the back end of the circle. As I walked around, I saw women wearing vibrant colored shirts with different colored ribbons in their hair. They were making and serving food I had not seen. Men were wearing white-colored shirts but with distinguishing designs. There was a variety of flowers everywhere–on clothes, purses, and hair. Additionally, there was gorgeous colorful hand-beaded jewelry on display. The smoke of sage could be seen and smelled from tents by people who were healers; it gave a sense of peace and serenity. As I got closer to the stage, there were handmade mannequins of newspaper and tissue paper painted in different colors. The mannequins were a representation of a man, woman, and child–a family. People were in line to take a picture with the mannequins and fireworks bursted in the shape of animals. After a while of walking, there was a delicious smell of the cuisines which drew my parents towards a particular tent, as the thought of food entered their minds.
After everyone was in, I stepped into a whole new world–one I was not too familiar with. I had knowledge of my parent’s Oaxacan background, but I did not know the true meaning of their culture.
My parent’s excitement for the food was quite overdramatic. Their excitement can be compared to a child receiving candy. Their eyes followed the women cooking their food, and a smile reached the end of their faces. I could not keep my eyes off the woman who kept mixing this light chocolate drink with her hands; it was a bit odd to see at first. It took a while for my parents’ food to be served, so I gazed into the million things that were happening. I saw girls and women wearing traditional clothing and carrying a basket of flowers on their shoulders heading towards the main stage. They were dancing to music I have never heard before. By the end of their dance, my parents were finally given their food. They got this odd-looking pizza made out of a huge tortilla with beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and meat. I saw their faces of satisfaction as they took giant bites of what I now know is called Tlayuda. I love this cultural plate; however, I was hesitant to take a bite because of the chapulines (grasshoppers) they had put on top of it. I took a few minutes to process the idea of eating an insect. Eventually, I took a bite and understood my parents’ reaction towards the food. It was delicious, the grasshoppers tasted like chili sauce. The Tlayudas were definitely a satisfying dish. By attending the event for less than 2 hours, I learned more about my Oaxacan culture than ever before.
All in all, the Guelaguetza festival introduced me to Oaxacan culture, but it did not bridge my identity. I felt that my transition to the U.S. made my views different from my parents and older siblings. There are indigenous roots in Oaxaca but it does not mean we identify as indigenous or follow the culture. I do not perceive myself as Oaxacan, and it is most likely because I have never been there before. However, if I were to visit Oaxaca, it would probably fill in the middle gap needed to connect to my culture. I need to experience all customs personally, walking around the city and interacting with people that live in Oaxaca. I’m the first natural-born citizen in my family, so my parents’ and older siblings’ connections to Oaxacan culture will always be different. I find myself lost in the environment that I believe I am supposed to know, but at the same time, I also do not. Ultimately, I feel like there is more learning and exploring I have to accomplish to eventually connect with my community and culture.
“About Oro/Sobre Oro” Organización Regional de Oaxaca ORO. 1 April 2020