Where My Father Went to Die, I Was Born. by Nohemi Samudio Gamis
Where my father went to die, I was born.
I was born December 30, 1997 in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico.
I was born into a family of six at that time; father, mother, brother, sister, sister, sister. I was born to a strong woman with a restless spirit and a man whose crippling depression led him to move his family from Los Angeles, California to Tecate, Mexico. In that time, my mother became pregnant with me – I am the only one, of six children, to be born in Mexico. I am the only one out of my siblings to have been an illegal immigrant, I am the only one out of my siblings to have both the last name of our father and mother, out of my siblings I am the most fluent in English, the one who most quickly assimilated, the one they call güerita, I am the most “American.” I am the whitest, I am the most Mexican.
On Janurary 25, 2019, my father told me a story.
During a seven-hour car ride to Tecate, where he and I traveled alone, I had built up the courage to ask him for a story – specifically, a story that I hoped would help me heal and find closure to a question I so desperately wanted to have answered with more than vague details and a nonchalant dismissal. That time, that day, my father gave me an answer without omission of details. In a couple of minutes, he shared a story that had taken him twenty-one years to tell me, that had taken me just as long to ask for.
Seven seasons of Pretty Little Liars has nothing on immigrant parents and their secrets. If Pretty Little Liars was about immigrant parents, the show would have lasted twenty years, at least. It’s the average amount of time an immigrant heart can hold a secret; it’s been scientifically proven by their children.
I remember every detail of the story he told me.
“Apá, porqué nací en México?"
(Dad, why was I born in Mexico?)
"Estábamos allí porque creí que me iba a morir, y quería morir allá para que tus abuelos pudieran ir a mi funeral."
(We were there because I thought I was going to die, and I wanted to die there so your grandparents could go to my funeral.)
"Porqué pensabas que te ibas a morir?"
(Why did you think you were going to die?)
My father told me the story of why I was born in Mexico; a story that in every sense, was his story too. It was a story that inescapably bound me to him and to the place that would have been his grave, but was instead my first home. It was a story that broke and violently confronted me, that challenged the bitterness and resentment I had harbored against my parents. Even now, as I write this, I feel the vulnerability I felt in those moments beside him.
Twenty-one years ran through my head.
The moments of absence came first.
The fifteen years of being an illegal immigrant in America, the fifteen years away from Mexico. I remember being absent from my older brother’s wedding in Mexico, of not wearing the matching dresses my sisters all wore, of not being in a photo with my family on that day, of staying behind. I remember being absent from my grandfather’s funeral, of not feeling his large hands hold me in a hug one last time, of not holding my father as he cried that day, of staying behind. I remember being absent from my cousin’s funeral, of not helping her around my aunt’s house, of not seeing her smile at me one last time, of staying behind. I remember being absent for fifteen years from my grandmother’s life, of not knowing her when she was healthy, of not telling her she raised a great daughter, of staying behind.
The moments of being present came second.
After fifteen years, I had gone back home. Too late. My brother’s wedding had passed, my grandfather and cousin were dead, my eyes had only seen my grandmother three times in fifteen years; the fourth time I saw her body in a coffin. Too many things had passed.
I resented my father for those moments.
For years, I struggled with accepting my racial identity, with navigating my immigration status, with simply existing. I understood being Mexican in America as a disadvantage; being an undocumented immigrant was my proof for that. For so long, I wanted so desperately to be anything other than what I was. I wanted to be white.
I realized that’s where my resentment lied – it wasn’t that I had been born in Mexico, so much as it was, I had been born brown. Early on I understood that I had doubly lost Brown People Real Estate; my parents got the location all wrong with me. I was born brown, okay. Nothing could have been done to prevent that without a complete alteration of my ancestry. I was born in Mexico, could’ve changed. Being born in Mexico, then living in America, made me feel the implications of my race and ethnicity more intensely. It was my father’s fault, for moving back to Mexico. I whole heartedly blamed him for the struggles I had with my identity.
Life could have been so much easier – I could have been like all my other siblings; able to cross the line between the two countries I belonged in.
I was Mexican, yes, but I was also American.
I was American, yes, but I was also Mexican.
During the fifteen years I lived as an illegal immigrant, I wished to be reborn in America. I had grown tired of my body tensing up whenever the word “beaner” or “wetback” were said, I had grown tired of filling in the circle for “no” when asked if I was a U.S. Citizen, I had grown tired of trying to prove how American I was 200% of the time, I had grown tired of changing my name so it could roll off the tongues of my white counterparts easier, I had grown tired of feeling that I was just like the border – a part of two places, yet without the ability to stretch an inch in any one direction to say I belonged there more than in the other place.
"Mi mamá y usted nunca cuentan historias."
(My mom and you never tell stories.)
In my head, I say – Do you know how much I have resented you? How much I have at times, hated you, for moving back to Mexico? Do you know how much harder you made my life? Do you know, that if you had told me that story earlier, I would have understood? I would have understood why life happened the way it did. I would have stopped blaming you for something you couldn’t control. I would have moved on.
“Me cuenta otra historia?”
(Can you tell me another story)
He asks me what kind of story I would like to hear. I told him something about his childhood. He nodded, and talked to me about his childhood in Mexico. We talked for hours, sharing stories, knowing each other more intimately than we had in twenty-one years, healing each other’s doubts, insecurities, and buried emotions with stories.
Nohemi Samudio Gamis is currently an English major in her junior year at Fresno State. She was born in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico and moved to the Central Valley at the age of three, where she and her family have lived since. She is a twenty-one-year-old introverted individual with a love for all things Marvel, science fiction, calligraphy, and classical music. In recent years, Nohemi has ventured into creative writing and hopes to continuously write throughout the remainder of her time at Fresno State and in the years after. To her, creative writing has become more than a hobby, it’s become a new form of expression and a new outlet for her voice.
Photo “roadways bird eye highway” on Foter.com