Writing In BedRemember Where You Came FromMarianna Tabares

I’ve had plenty of time to reconcile with the idea that no matter where you go, you have to remember where you came from, as if you might forget to feel proud of your origins.

I live in a humble neighborhood. Many families here live in 2 bedroom homes or apartments and if you are tempted to make a Mexican people joke, go ahead, because they don’t hurt anymore, and yes we can absolutely fit a lot of people into cramped living spaces. This is the kind of neighborhood where everyone runs outside to wave Mexican flags when Mexico wins a soccer game. We’ve even had the National Guard come out to settle a riot during a Lakers victory a few years ago.

When my parents split up, my mom had to figure out how to make enough money for us to live together, not go hungry and still pay for a babysitter to stay with us while she worked all day. We went from living in a neighborhood that in the ’80s was quite diverse to where we live now, which is a primarily Hispanic neighborhood. I don’t usually prefer to use umbrella terms, but we really have various Spanish-speaking families from Mexico, Central America and Cuba, to name a few.

Before I moved, I had friends of varying ethnicities, but here I became immersed in a neighborhood that strongly advocated Chicano culture, though to this day I still feel so detached from it. Many of my friends grew up together and we all went to the same schools as their older siblings. I was the newbie and had a lot to learn about the area’s history and which places served the best Menudo on Sundays.

Things really got interesting when we were almost out of high school and one by one we received our acceptance letters. Some of my friends had been itching to leave for years and were more than pleased when they were accepted into universities like Wesleyan and Brown. They had invested all of their time into school activities and leadership groups and had crafted their personal statements to best reflect how much they deserved to pursue higher learning.

The friends who I’d helped for years with their essays and homework split town in quite a hurry.

After 4 years, some returned and much to their dismay, found themselves back in the crowded homes they had been glad to get away from. After they’d gotten a taste of life outside of our southern California suburb, they returned with a bad taste in their mouths caused by the familiarity of home and the risk of running into someone from high school while shopping for groceries.

I’ve heard it preached so many times that no matter where you go, you’re obligated to remember where you came from. I wanted to believe that it meant that you could be anywhere in the world and still carry with you all the pieces of home that make you who you are, but when it falls from certain lips, the words mean that no matter how successful you become or what better things you find outside of the “bubble” of home, you are not allowed to forget your humble roots.

You’re not allowed to forget you shared a room with your brother or with several sisters.

You’re not allowed to forget you had a house full of people sharing just one bathroom.

You’re not allowed to forget eating beans and birria at every big family party.

You’re not allowed to forget what color your skin is and that it still has a bearing on what people think when they meet you.

If we spoke eloquently, we were teased for being “too smart” and “white washed”, a term I find ridiculous.

If I couldn’t handle spicy foods or said something incorrectly in Spanish, I was called a “pocha” by the neighbors.

If you married a white guy and didn’t teach your kids Spanish, then you “forgot where you came from”. Come on.

These are the words I’ve heard from other people’s relatives as well as our peers who never wanted to or couldn’t go to college, as if that divided us so much that we forgot how many years we spent together in junior high and high school. How can anyone forget where they came from?

Let’s say one day I did reach the kind of success that would allow me to provide for my family. A part of me would still be afraid of forgetting where I came from, even though my heart has always wanted comfort, shelter and happiness. It just still feels like wanting more means we don’t care about the humble beginnings anymore, but there’s just no way I’m going to forget that I used to push the grocery cart home by myself after buying everything with food stamps.

Featured Image via DeviantArt

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  1. I find it impossible to ignore where I am from and how I was raised and then seeing how it is in stark contrast to my life now. I grew up very poor in rural California on a ranch. My parents often had to borrow money from my siblings and I to buy food. I have bought all my own clothes since I was 10. I grew up embarrassed constantly trying to figure out how to fit in. I spent a lot of years trying to escape where I was from and the painful memories that I had about it. It wasn’t until my 30′s that I learned to embrace it and acknowledge how those experiences have made me who I am today. I saw the value in the struggle and the true beauty that life, family, home and culture can be in our lives.

    Thanks for sharing and always being vulnerable about what life is. I wish you success it whatever form it may take on. I am sure you are and will be an inspiration to many young Latina girls!

    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Bravo, lady. Damn it’s refreshing to read something that propels us towards this sort of reflection. There is a difference between “never forgetting” and “dwelling”. This is something with I’ve struggled with me entire life. Now, not because I’m embarrassed by just how poor we were when I was younger… That doesn’t bother me in the slightest… But, due to certain circumstances circulating (how’s that for an alliteration) my past, I’ve been urged to move forward without looking back at all. The problem with that: I wouldn’t be a shred of me if even a shred of my past was missing… The good and the bad.
    One day, over a really strong coffee or a really good beer I’m sure I’ll find myself in California and I’ll share the whole spiel… But for now, thanks for posting this. People need to realize (here comes the corny) just how rich life can be sans the riches.
    Hope you’re smiling

  3. So true and emotionnal.

  4. ay Marianna… i know this all too well! i could have written this same essay and made the same points. it’s almost as if you try to venture out of “la vecindad,” you’re somehow betraying your people. we’re trying to make a better name for ourselves as Latinos and Chicanos. we’re not all gang members on welfare with 14 kids and no education. we don’t all speak the ghetto spanglish that is so prevalent in the area. i hated being accused of “acting white,” when i was the same as everyone else, humble roots and everything. i know what it’s like to buy groceries with food stamps and not wear Guess jeans or whatever else was popular at the time. when i was growing up i didn’t realize i was poor until someone pointed it out to me. i thought i was just like everybody else! and i get a lot of crap for marrying a white guy, even though i plan on teaching my daughter Spanish. there’s no way you can escape where you’re from because you carry it with you throughout your life. it’s who you are.

    and we know how to make a 2 bedroom house or apartment look like a palace!

  5. Always love your words!! Always!!

  6. “If we spoke eloquently, we were teased for being “too smart” and “white washed”, a term I find ridiculous.”

    I get that because of my taste in music. “You like all that white people music.” And by that, they mean, “rock.” I listen to and enjoy plenty of Latin music, but yes…I digeth the rock. The fact that people take that to mean that I’ve renounced my heritage is insane. At the same time it’s like, “What does it mean to be Puerto Rican?” What does it mean to be African American? What does it mean to be an other? We all have different experiences, so there’s not one overarching path for all of us.

  7. my mom was the only child out of 8 to spend more than a couple of years away from the small west tx town she was raised in. she grew up in a 2 bedroom house my grandma still lives in today. my mom and dad raised me and my 4 siblings in southern california where they busted their asses to put is in a private school. none of us speak spanish. my mom’s family can’t stand us. :/

    they say we forgot where we came from.