By Joanna Sanchez-Avila
I am haunted by both the presence and the absence of my parents’ heritage, culture, and histories. I am conflicted by the heritage, culture, and history that I learned to value, to perform, to exude and which I am now compelled to complicate. I come from a line of hardworking people with complicated lives; I was raised by a strong mujer and am surrounded by two strong sisters. The tapestries that bind my Mamá’s and estranged father’s histories respectively are ones that I intend to find and attempt to understand. The act of decolonization is not an easy one, but it is worth a lifetime’s work to find so that the future can have options.
I am haunted by sound bites, images, memories, and transactional exchanges of the everyday. The sound bites are the quietest. Anecdotes. Slices of transactional dialogues. My Mamá’s voice always on repeat, she the main speaker. ¿Buenas que va querer? Or with an accent, “Hello. What do you like?” She sells in an ice cream truck. Almost thirty years in the same occupation. If she had not migrated to the U.S. she could have stayed in Honduras and finished her studies to become a high-ranking nurse.
As paleter@s we were always on the move. We were raised as nomads becoming familiar with geographical-temporality: one-hour and a half here, two hours there, and five or more hours over there. Migrant habits, I suppose.
An image that haunts me, associated with a range of memories, is the one that features the famous cartoon ice cream faces. You know those ice cream pops that are crafted after Bugs Bunny, Sonic the Hedgehog, Batman, Tweedy, or Mickey Mouse? The ones who sometimes come out looking strange because their eye-gumballs were not centered? Well, they haunt me like a metaphor of commoditized masks. They remind me of masquerades and the drama that they ooze. Like in Edgar A. Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” or Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, fashion, hiding behind masks, and being mysterious while delivering awful news became fascinating to me, the only exception is the white people orgies (Kubrick), no thanks!
Being our mamá’s first children born in the United States, my sisters and I learned that we were different, Hondureñas-Americana(h)s. [h addition inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.] As a child and a young adult, I learned to hide my true self in order to assimilate and prevent any cultural conflicts stemming from folks not understanding my difference. But now as an adult I am learning to embrace what little I know about the past and am blending it with my present, hoping for a more fortified future.
I play with my identities because they are always in flux, multiple, not static.
My familia’s poor-working class background sometimes is not coded in the way that I currently dress or even in how I consume culture. I thrift to find clothes that fit me, that set me apart because they are one of a kind, and are affordable. Recently, becoming a graduate student in the Southwestern borderlands, my budget is limited to the perks of style. I have other ‘adult financial responsibilities’ now. Most days I look like a gothic-dama, and other days I look like a “preppy” 1940s-american woman. All in the name of fatshion, fierceness, and fly aestheticz.
The transactional exchanges of the everyday that haunt me are those where I find relics of my distant-ancestral culture at thrift shops. Exposed on display for the highest bidder. My heart sinks when I see artisan’s mahogany carved with Honduras, C.A. (Centro America) for sale at predominantly white-owned thrift stores. Here is where the dilemma happens between my complicated subjectivity and the subjectivities of my parents’, and my own distant-ancestral histories originating in lands that I have yet to visit. When I can afford them, I end up buying them because my logic is “I rather have them and learn about my cultural heritage than someone else who doesn’t share Honduran ancestry.” Lessons in privilege, perhaps.
Identity/ies formations can almost be instantaneous similar to the Instax or “polaroid” pictures featured in my collage. They instantly capture a moment in time that can easily be forgotten or that can last forever. La idea de identidad es complicada para mí. Yo tengo muchas identidades por que no estoy satisfecha con sólo tener una. Y las que tengo todavía necesitan más investigación. I have viewed my life as a jigsaw puzzle. One moment the pieces fit then the next I become a misfit.