Trading Out Halloween

2 Nov

“Look at this sweet baby, 100% Mexican now” my father-in-law, Arturo, would say about Lucia soon after our arrival. Although even then, despite my hormones still raging, I suspected that his intentions were not malicious, it was still difficult not to let the steam shoot from my ears in offended rage. “Nope, she’s still just 50% Mexican,” I had to insist every time. Because it felt like I was being written off in that equation- my half of the genes, my more than half of the work of bringing her into this world, not to mention whatever unquantifiable portion of raising her that I am responsible for. It felt painful and malicious, even if my vague sense of rational brain 2 months postpartum could theoretically not take it personally. I think I can assert now, 2 years later, that Arturo was mostly just excited to have Lucia here (mostly, though, because he does have a bit of a nationalist streak, too).

I can’t predict exactly how Lucia will feel about or choose to represent and explain her “50/50” identity when she’s older. I imagine that it will change tremendously at different points in her life, just like everyone’s identity does. All of us, of course, no matter where we grow up, are a giant mix of influences. I doubt anyone thinks of themselves as exactly 50% like their father and 50% like their mother. So what does it mean to have parents from two different countries? What does it mean to have dual nationality? What does it mean for my “half” of the heritage that she grows up in her father’s land, in this culture? And when my half is a weird mix of a mix of cultures anyway, thanks to the strong Italian influences on my mom’s side of the family?

All parents want their kids to be like them in the good ways, and hopefully not follow in their footsteps in their faults or weaknesses. If only life were that neat and tidy, right? Similarly, I would like Lucia (and her future brother or sister) to have only the best of both (all) cultures, please and thank you.

I hope she appreciates all the fabulous parts of Oaxacan culture, and can reject some of those nasty sides, or that we can minimize their impact at least. For instance, I hope she shares her bag of chips or cookies with those around her without needing to be asked, the way people automatically do here (such a small gesture,but poignantly important). I hope she can learn how to rely on friends and family for help without having a complex about it, just knowing that we all have to help each other to get by in life. But we’re gonna have to figure out some alternative educational situation, because the public school system down here is a famously poor and corrupt one. (Although her Papi went to public schools and still managed to have enough outside influences in his education to actually learn things, so there is hope.) I’m sure her Papi could give a much bigger list of things he hopes to impart to her from his childhood culture, and pitfalls he wants to avoid. But that’s his part to tell, not mine.

For my part, for her Kentucky (and Italian-American!) half, I’d like Lucia to have some fabulous corn bread and greens recipes, for example. I’d like for her to avoid entirely that whole “the U.S. is the biggest-baddest-bestest place on Earth that should control the rest of the world because it’s really the only place God approves of” sort of mentality. I hope she can appreciate a good bourbon with her mama (and her papá) when the time is right. I hope that she can spend enough time in the U.S. or somewhere else with more racial and ethnic diversity than here. That she can learn first-hand about many people’s customs and heritage that are different from hers (and not just different because she’s the weirdo half-gringa)- something possible in Louisville, Kentucky, but not too likely here. I want her to be able to appreciate the importance of a good stoop or porch, to sit out on in the evening and be social with the neighbors, perhaps with some iced tea (or bourbon!). I hope that despite the distance she can have some equally strong bond and pleasant associations of her grandparents in the U.S., the way I think about my Nonna getting together with my mom and my aunt, eating Doritos and Diet Coke, salami and really good quality whole wheat bread that my Nonna would buy.

We can already see some of this working itself out. Conan and I, thus far, are her biggest influences, and she mostly does what we do. She eats her vegetables and tries chorizo with her Papi. She devours tamales and al dente pasta with equal gusto. She speaks English and Spanish. She says please and thank you and washes her hands before meals, because that’s what we’ve taught her, mostly by example. Most of the things from my upbringing and heritage that I want for her I can (attempt to) instill in her myself. I can cook her cornbread. We can listen to Hank Williams (Sr.) together. We can even catch fireflies and sit out on the porch.

But there are some things that I loved as a child, some things that I still hold dear, that I probably won’t be able to provide. I can’t teach her to lick honeysuckle. She’ll probably never know about snow days, and getting off school and going sledding. And sadly, tragically perhaps, I don’t get to share my joy of Halloween with her.

Missing Halloween is a really big deal to me. Bigger than all the other U.S. holidays that we’re not there for. (About as heartbreaking as missing WorldFest, the yearly festival of cultures in Louisville) I adore Halloween. Starting with costumes and the whole idea of dress-up. When I was a kid, I loved deciding on a costume, which usually my parents would put together (not those store-bought costumes). I dressed up as things like a camera, a 3-headed alien, and Catwoman (with homemade “boots,” shiny plastic-ish material with holes cut for laces to put on my shins). As I teen I had fun with ironic dress-up, going as Barbie one year, helping my mom dress up as a punk rocker. I still love seeing what my outlandish friends can come up with, too, although perhaps the trio that one year that did the twin towers with airplane costume crossed the line.

As a kid, we would trick or treat for hours on end, my friends and my sister and I complaining that we were ready to go home, my mom and her friend denying us, telling us we were crazy to give up on the candy so early. They’d convince us to go a while longer, and sure enough, it was always worth it in the end. My dad would go crazy in competition with the neighbors to have the scariest, most creative Halloween decorations on the block, adding new stuff every year- a skeleton hanging from a noose, a stuffed Jason-like character sitting on the porch swing.

I love the idea of Halloween as a night when the veil between the worlds of the dead and the living is thin. I love the scariness of it all, the horror film reruns, the possibilities that come with invoking something beyond the day-to-day. I love that it is a day (a night, really) of fun and magic and sweets, and not the sort of high-pressure let’s-hope-the-family-can-get-along holiday like Christmas. It’s not a shady celebration of colonization like Thanksgiving, nor a holiday based on a religion that I have lots of issues with. It’s the U.S. holiday I most want to share with Lucia. And it’s not celebrated where we live.

But there is Day of the Dead, a two-day long celebration which is equally fabulous, although different from Halloween (I wrote about it in detail two years ago- It’s something her Papi grew up with and loves, and it’s a holiday for the whole family. I have to accept that I can’t give her all the same good things from my childhood, but there’s lots of good stuff from Conan’s childhood, too. There is plenty of joy to be shared, from here and from there, adding things we make up all our own as a family. So I’ll keep cooking pasta al dente for the Day of the Dead altar, to honor my Italian grandmother alongside the mole for Conan’s grandmother. We’ll have to appreciate all the good stuff no matter where it comes from, take some bad with the good, just like everyone else. And Lucia will be 100% Lucia, Mexican and Kentuckian and Italian and whatever other bits and pieces of identity get thrown into the mix. Perhaps the most important thing is just to instill in her that her identity is perfect and right just how it is, no matter how different from everyone else’s around her. I hope that she can learn to appreciate all the parts of herself, without having to put anyone else’s identity down, still knowing that everyone else’s culture and identity is just as unique and wonderful as hers, in their own way. If we can pull that off, then I can deal with not sharing Halloween with her. After all, parenting is always an exercise in compromise.

2 Responses to “Trading Out Halloween”

  1. fml221 November 2, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    Love this post. I have so many good memories of Halloween too – going to the zoo, dragging youall onward to get “enough” candy, sewing parts of your costumes, and your Dad’s unending creativity with it all. But you’re right, what’s most important is that Lucia knows she’s just right, and that she enjoys all the wonder of what she has.

    • exiletomexico November 3, 2014 at 8:23 am #

      Thanks for contributing to so many good Halloween memories- and helping shape my strong sense of identity! Love you!

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