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"We are near each other yet so far apart"

Published onFeb 26, 2023

Photo by Amy Farias:

Brown rough calloused hands
wrinkled like raisins dipping
in and out of the masa.
Pounding and kneading la masa
para las tortillas,
Para aprender mija” she tells me
massaging and kneading the masa
like a sculpture pliable by her
I answer in English, “No, I don’t
want to learn.”
denying the half-Mexican part of me and my language
the only language I knew until I began school.
Porque no hablas espanol? Why do you only speak in English now?”
she asks haltingly in English.
My teenage self, self-centered,
feeling like the masa
being kneaded by her hands, knows the answer.
She doesn’t know the laughs and taunts I hear at school…
How I can’t say “chair” and “share” correctly.
The laughs follow me all the time mocking me,
like the sounds of her slapping the masa
trying to shape it into something else.
My thick Mexican accent almost lost.
I’ve worked hard in speech therapy
to sound like “them” not like her,
denying my language, my customs, even my food.
She rolls out the masa into circles for the comal.
I watch refusing to participate, refusing to speak Spanish
denying who I am because I have green eyes,
light gold-brown hair and white skin.
Weda” she calls me.
Everyone in my dark-skinned,
brown-eyed, jet-black-haired family
calls me “Weda.
I hate it.
It means “light-skinned, light-eyed.”
It means not belonging for me,
not in my family or at school.
It means the kids calling me
“coconut”…..brown on the outside
wanting to be white on the inside,
never being fully one or the other
always the outsider.
She wants me to be Mexicana,
I just want to be American.
So, I watch her make the tortillas
and refuse to try, seeing the hurt in her eyes.
I listen to her speak in her language
while I speak mine.
We are near each other yet so far apart
more so by our need to cling onto our identity.
She wants me to learn the old ways
of “mijas,” “machismo,” and “mamas
I want to learn the ways of “feminism,” “independent women,”
and college.
I turned my back on what she had to teach me and left it all behind.
Left behind my accent, my culture and all she had taught
as if I could erase those brown rough calloused hands of hers
trying to shape me like she did the masa.
I long now to hear the words she said and see her at her comal.
I make her foods…carne guisada and arroz con pollo.
But the tortillas that she made, those have been lost.
She passed away when I was young.
Too young to realize how heavy a loss,
the burden of rejecting her, I carry now as my cross.

Lisa Espinoza McGrew is a 1994 graduate of TAMU-CC. She’s been teaching English for the past twenty-seven years at the middle and high school level. She also taught 6th grade Theatre Arts and English as a Second Language. She is currently the English as a Second Language Coordinator at the School of Science and Technology Bayshore Campus in Corpus Christi. She wants to tell the stories of her grandmother but also what it was like to grow up, half Spaniard/Mexican and half white, not fitting in completely with either. Lisa maintains a deep love for her Hispanic culture, heritage, and folklore kept alive by her grandmother. 

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