Identity in a Sea of Ambiguity


By Ashley Trejo

In my life, there are few times that questions have truly stumped me and left me scrambling to formulate a clear response. The majority of these instances are linked to any question asked by TSA that turn me into a clammy, stuttering mess for absolutely no reason. Although, I suppose all the “random” security checks really did a number. However, the questions that I am referring to specifically have to do with questions pertaining to language, culture, and identity. I did not give myself the space to think about these aspects of my being and, as a result, had to rush words out of my mouth. Well, at least that was the case. My time in Hyderabad gave me the time to reflect on the questions that I never had clear answers to and also the added vocabulary to add to my repertoire.

बोलो – Bolo (Speak)

My first month I was reasonably quiet; living with new people, in a new environment, and in a new country warrants the occasional uncomfortable silence. However, there were times that I wish I would have spoken up. My host family at the beginning were under the impression that I was Mexican, i.e from Mexico. I figured it had to do with my description on my profile and clarified that I was Mexican-American. Nevertheless, they continued to introduce me as an international Mexican student who would live with them for the next 8 months. While this was all seemingly harmless, it caused me to notice the inner turmoil of the way I identify. My family could not have known that they had begun a cultural exploration that I would take home. While that is all great, looking back I would have wanted to tell myself: “बोलो”. Speak for yourself. But how could I when I didn’t even know my own truth?

My senior year I shared a part of my Mexican-American childhood with my school and this year I wondered where that part of me had gone.

चुप – Chup/Choop (Quiet)

Thoughts began running through my mind that I didn’t have clear answers to: Do I have a claim to Mexico? Can I call myself Mexican or is that disrespectful, as I have the privileges of an American citizenship/passport? Would people of Latin American consider me as Latina as well? What am I- चुप !! I needed time and space away from my own thoughts to reflect. Thankfully, I had all of Hyderabad to take up my time, until I was mistaken as Indian. My racial ambiguity had always been a source of entertainment to see what people would come up with next; however, at this time my racial ambiguity was a reminder how my outer self matched my inner confusion around race and identity.

See, prior to arriving in India, I had an encounter with a Latino who had asked me where I came from after hearing me speak Spanish. Quickly becoming flustered, I began with “Well, my parents are from Mexico but I was born here in the states…” to which he responded, “Oh, so you’re not really Mexican”. My identity had just been discredited by what I considered to be a “real” Latino. My Mexican card had just been rejected. That encounter left my world crumbling and had left me in an existential crisis before my year abroad even began.

This picture is of my mother’s naturalization in becoming a United States citizen. This signified the end of fearing being removed from her family, children, and the country she grew to know as home.

बस – Bus (Enough/Stop)

There came a point where I recognized how far away from myself I felt after constantly questioning my truth; where I allowed my desire for validation to speak for me instead of claiming myself and my story. It also helped to have a friend to tell me “बस”. Enough. Enough of the questioning. Enough. She said all the things I knew and it was up to me to believe. The perceptions that people hold about me are not a representation of what I actually am. I am not to be put in a box just because the world isn’t equipped to broaden the world of identity. Self-care and self-love require you to hold space for your own truth, even if it isn’t what the world considers to be “true”.

Food has always been a way to connect; whether it be serving curry at the table or making a makeshift tortilla station, love and culture are always shared.

शुक्रिया – Shukriya (Thank you )

All I have to say to my experience is शुक्रिया. I needed this year to fully accept the answers to questions the world made of me and to start seeking questions of my own. I was fully complacent, after being awarded a scholarship to a private school, and thought that the golden ticket in my hand meant I couldn’t question what I saw around me.

I have come to realize now that a part of me was right. I have no real roots and that is okay. My family has roots to Mexico and from those, I am able to learn the wisdom and knowledge they carry. Although my roots to the United States are nonexistent, they begin with my sister and me; as well as every first-generation born person in America that will be the roots for their descendants.

Before this year I couldn’t question the intersections of race and identity or the nuances of going through this world as a literal and figurative world traveler as I couldn’t see it. My experience in both American and Mexican cultures equipped me with tools to make a wonderful year living with a wonderful family. I was able to regain my trust in my sense of self and now will not become panicked by questions regarding my identity, language, or culture. While my exposure to language and culture expanded so did my appreciation for all India has to offer the world.

Thank you for a year where I was able to question my surroundings and also myself.

Thank you for the diversity that India has to offer.

I called my mother when I arrived in Agra to show her where her genes, her history had made it to; my growth is a continuation of the journey our family began.

शुक्रिया