When people ask me where my family is from, my answer varies. If I’m feeling lazy, I just say they’re Nicaraguan. That’s mostly true. Both of my parents grew up there, and that’s where they both migrated to the states from several decades ago. But the truth is, there’s more to it. At least part of my Latinx roots come from Mexico. My father was born in Mexico City, as was his father before him. So while I grew up eating gallo pinto and queso frito, celebrating La Griteria, and speaking Nica slang with the other Nicaraguan kids in my neighborhood, I always felt like there was something I was missing out on: the Mexican part of my heritage.
See, my paternal abuelo was visiting Nicaragua back around the early 1960s and fell in love with a woman there—my Mama Adilia, my father’s mother. They got married and moved to the D.F. (not necessarily in that order). Unfortunately, my grandfather was murdered just a few months after my father was born. It’s all fairly suspicious and we don’t have many answers, but what I do know is that my grandmother’s life was being threatened as well, so she quickly packed up everything she could and moved back with her kids to the tiny Nicaraguan town of Corinto.
Because of this, I never really got the chance to experience Mexican culture within my own family. My Mama Adilia likely wanted to put everything to do with Mexico behind her after losing her husband in such a horrific way. I can’t say that I really blame her. And as for my father, he was raised Nica and back then people didn’t really do as much digging into their past as we do nowadays. At most, all I really learned about Mexican culture growing up was from watching telenovelas with my mother and whatever aspects overlapped with Nicaraguan culture (like having piñatas and mariachis at birthday parties).
In my early twenties, I ventured to Nicaragua for the first time to see the land of my ancestors. I fell in love instantly, but always knew that someday I would also need to make it out to Mexico. Over the past year, I was presented with several opportunities to visit and explore the country and it’s only made me embrace this side of my culture more and more.
On my first trip, I visited Cabo San Jose. While a fairly tourist-heavy spot, there were a few choice moments that stuck with me: A beautiful sunset boat tour with Sunriders, exploring the Sea of Cortez. An evening Cirque du Soleil-esque performance called the Wirikuta, where I was briefly educated about the history and culture of the huichol (one of the many indigenous groups in Mexico). And an early evening with mariachis on the rooftop Sky Lounge at the Krystal Grand Los Cabos—an evening which made me reminisce about my Mama Adilia, who was forever a fan of mariachis. I wondered if my abuelo was just as big a fan.
The second time around, I was able to enjoy a few days in Puerto Vallarta. I immersed myself a bit more in the local culture with a walking tour of various sites, including the malecón, local eateries, and a few marketplaces. I tried to picture what the town might have looked like years ago, whether my abuelo ever got to visit such places, or if his home was anything like it. I wondered what my own life would have been like had my grandfather lived, had my father had the chance to grow up with a dad. I thought about the step-brothers my father never had the chance to really know, the ones who still live in Mexico…somewhere. Did they have any idea my father was still alive? Had they ever attempted to reach out? Did they realize they had a niece who would love to meet them?
And then I asked myself other things: Would my Spanish enjoy the sing-song inflection of Mexican slang, and would it have been closer to chilango (as spoken in the DF) or another regional accent? Would I have grown up with a greater appreciation for holidays like Dia de los Muertos and Mexican Independence Day (and not Americanized holidays like Cinco de Mayo)? Would I have a better understanding and appreciation of Mexican history, of Mexican-American history, and our struggles as a people here? Would I call myself a chicana without hesitation? Moreover, would I even exist as I am?
On my last visit, this time to Puerto Escondido, I felt even more connected to this country that at least some of my ancestors inhabited. I got to meet and speak with even more locals, to hear the pride in their voices as they spoke about their own town. I walked along the beaches and dipped my toes in the Pacific and watch the surfers in Zicatela. I wandered the artisan markets and the farmer’s markets, sampled the local fresh cheese and locally-brewed coffee. I enjoyed the slow pace of this gorgeous, quiet beach town. I felt grateful and humbled and moreover, it sparked further curiosity to know and understand my roots.
Travel is one of the best ways to not only get to know a place, but to get to know yourself. While I wish that I could have grown up taking trips to Mexico, connecting with that side of my family, I know it’s not too late. While I would have loved to have grown up eating more authentic Mexican meals (and not just tacos, por favor), or hearing songs or stories from the towns my ancestors may have inhabited, that doesn’t mean I can’t start now.
I live in Denver these days, a city that is predominantly white but also has a strong Mexican presence. I have been making more and more of an effort to utilize what I have here (places like the Museo de las Americas and the CHAC Gallery, and the many, many Mexican restaurants) to further connect with this side of my heritage. And someday, I know I’ll make another trip—to Mexico City this time, to find my abuelo’s tomb and maybe even finally get some answers as to what happened to him. Maybe I’ll even find some of my living, distant relatives. It’s likely not something that would have been possible some twenty or forty years ago, but fortunately today we have so many ways to research and connect to our pasts. What a time to be alive.