Like a good Mexican I got there late. The fiesta started at 4:30pm and sure enough I didn’t pull up until 6:00pm. I spotted the house right away. It was a wedding, but there was a jumper in the front yard for children. As I walked up, I watched seven or eight brown faces appearing and disappearing behind the inflated faces of Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach. My sister greeted my boyfriend David and me at the entrance.
“You’re late,” she said as she kissed us, “and now there’s nowhere for us to sit.”
I smooth-talked excuses into the air that no one paid any mind to. My sister and her husband led us to the back gate and the music began to grow louder and louder. The DJ blasted Banda through the speakers. This made absolutely no sense because there was a live Banda lounging lazily on the other side of the gate. Como les gusta tirar el dinero, my mother would say. Next to the Banda was the DJ with one hand on his headphones, nodding his head to the music. This was my sister’s best friend Rocio’s wedding and there was no place to sit. While my sister scoped out the area, I ran into the bride and groom. Rocio is a Mexican American, daughter of immigrants just like me. The groom, Michael, was born and raised in Connecticut to a very Caucasian, conservative family. Michael’s family welcomed us warmly and told us to sit anywhere we’d like. We laughed and thanked them.
I looked around and caught my sister trying to make eye contact with me across the yard. She pointed at available seats for us directly across from each other. We made our way over. A Caucasian couple was blocking two of the seats and I asked if they were sitting there. They enthusiastically shook their heads no and motioned for us to please sit. I noticed that as my sister was making her way across the table to sit, she had a decision to make. There were three available seats. To the right of them was a chatty Mexican family while on the left was an older Caucasian woman and man scrolling through their phones gripped tightly against their chests. My sister glanced once at her options and promptly sat next to the Mexican family without missing a beat. I suddenly became aware of the fact that I was taking note of my sister’s biased actions. I wondered if I would have done the same thing if I hadn’t been scrutinizing my surroundings, including my very own thoughts.
All of Michael’s friends and family came directly from Connecticut. I visited Michael’s family with my sister over the summer and was shocked by my very first visit to a small town where everyone knew everybody. I remember driving two hours through a pine green forest to get there only to find myself actively trying to get out. Every time I stepped into town, my inability to escape their long gazes resulted in my defense mechanisms to activate. With lowered eyes, I became painstakingly aware of the color of the arms that swayed back and forth beside me. “What a pretty color?” I’d think to myself realizing I was keeping my head down in shame and embarrassment. Immediately after this realization, I shot it right back up and locked eyes with anyone who would dare keep staring. A few did and I imagined myself walking right up to them, my finger poking their chest repeatedly and saying “If you were in my hood, you’d. Get. Shot. For staring like that.” It’s funny because now, in Santa Ana, California, They are the ones keeping Their heads lowered. I wonder if any of Them recognize me and realize They, too, had made me feel this uncomfortable. The thought of their potential repentance made me feel a bit sorry for Them.
My sister attempted a conversation with us across the table with no success. The live Banda began playing unbelievably loud so we motioned toward the taco stand on the other side of the yard. I stood in line and noticed very few Caucasians with street tacos. Instead, they forked at their small plates of salad and pasta. I turned back to the taco stand and as I ordered “tres de pollo con todo, por favor!” I became acutely conscious of the way the taquero showered my tortillas with grease and rubbed them around the grill. I had observed this hundreds of times in my lifetime so why did it now appear sweaty and dirty to me? Is this how They view my favorite food? That’s ridiculous. Imagining their ghastly faces disgusts me and I can’t help but coo. “You’re not sweating, little tortilla! You’re glowing!” Then I told the taquero to add two more to my order.
The wedding had a Mexican antojitos stand and I’d never seen one at a party before so I was ecstatic. The party was elegant and white but once you made your way over to the antojitos corner, it was a different story. Lining the table in a flamboyant fashion were bionicos—chopped fruit covered with yogurt and topped with raisins, shredded coconut, and tiny, colorful marshmallows, tostilocos—Tostitos, pig skin, cucumber, jicama, Japanese peanuts, hot sauce and chili powder, chicharones—fried wheat snacks topped with hot sauce and lime juice, micheladas—beer mixed tomato juice, limes, and hot sauce, Tajin brims the edges of the cup. I looked around the fiesta again and was deflated to see that They wouldn’t even try it. I felt a pull to befriend them and coax them into trying a tostiloco or a bionico. I would even go easy on the hot sauce. Before I could step a foot in their direction, I imagined their face scrunched up in disgust as I’d present them with a treat I’d prepared. Instead, I frantically looked at the table with treats and tried to find a way to swoop them into my arms and run. I was defeated. I was unable to protect all of the things that I loved. For the second time tonight, a battle ignited inside of me. A part of me wanted to initiate conversation and make them feel welcome. The other half of me wanted to keep Them as far away as possible and to keep Us safe. This awareness caused me to act. I recognized a woman from Connecticut who showed me a picture of her cat. As I made my way back to my table with arms full of tacos, tostilocos and bionicos, I tapped her and said, “You’re the cat lady!” She smiled and nodded, then turned her back to me. I admit it, that may not have been the smoothest way to start up a conversation but still, there was my attempt at being friendly with White people. I shrugged and let the battle rage on.
As I silently thanked the genius who suggested the antojitos table, I watched more and more people get up to dance. The old school Mexican dads at the fiesta began to do the traditional zapatiado, the shoe dance, similar to tap dancing. At first glance, the dance seems like a mindless combination of kicking and stomping, but if you pay close attention, you could feel the smug spirit of our ancestors gloriously and adamantly refusing to let traditions die, even in a new country, even in a new world. I burst with pride as I watched the Caucasian people clapping along and laughing with the rest of us. Soon after, Rocio’s mom announced the traditional Vibora de La Mar, or the Serpant of the sea game. In Mexico, this is a traditional singing game for children where two individuals clasp their hands together in the shape of an arch and the rest of the kids form a line grabbing on to the person in front’s waist and run through the arch until the two kids decide to bring the arch down on someone and capture them. In weddings, it is quite the opposite. The bride and groom stood on chairs clasping hands while being held by 4 or 5 of their most trusted friends. Two lines separated by gender formed and one line began to run through to try to knock down the bride and groom.
Everyone began crowding around. The music began to play and the whole backyard buzzed with excitement. I forgot the differences in skin color and grabbed the cat lady by the hand. The women went first. The lyrics began, and we were off. Round and round Rocio’s sister took the lead maneuvering us through tight crevices between the tables and straight through the chair holding Rocio with a feisty shove in her direction. Her loyal five including my sister successfully kept her up as we went around and around in a laughing frenzy. It was a whole three minutes of uncontrollable laugher once we finished.
Next was the men’s turn. Rocio’s brother took the lead and began slowly skipping until the climax of the song. He then led them to rush full speed towards Michael and his four brothers holding him. Rocio’s brother rammed right into Michael’s chair and stumbled to the ground, taking down with him one of Michael’s brothers. The two of them reached for the chair Michael was standing on and the unsteadiness caused Michael to topple over both of them. The yard howled with laughter but I saw the intense anger in Michael’s eyes for a fraction of a second before it became a smile again. All feelings of joy and laughter left me as I dared to look around at the other Caucasians. The older women, including Michael’s mother and aunts, had tight, disapproving smiles that I feared might turn into snarls. “Would you look at these hooligans and savages finding enjoyment in knocking my beloved son off of a chair?” I heard the mother say. “This is what our poor Michael is marrying into?” I heard an aunt say. My cat lady grabbed my shoulders from behind disrupting my imagination and yelled “Why are you still standing here? Run, the bouquet toss is about to start.” I looked up and it was just me. No one was snarling. No one was calling us hooligans. It was just fear. Everyone was smiling again. No one was overthinking Michael’s fall but me. I felt robbed of all enjoyment tonight but who did I actually have to blame but myself? My feelings of mistrust interpreted every smile as fake, every laugh as mocking, every comment as judgmental. I, more than anyone, should know what allowing fear to win does to a victim. Victim? Am I a victim? No. I, too, would be cautious to try a food I didn’t recognize. I, too, would be bewildered if my loved one fell off a chair and a room full of strangers roared in laughter.
This epiphany engulfed my thoughts and I sat back at my table and watched two women screech at having the bouquet tossed in their direction. These Mexican women tugged back and forth before one of them lost her grip then proceeded to walk off and smooth out her hair, giggling. I wondered if They were having a good time tonight. I wondered if They were as paranoid as I was. Everyone was laughing. Everyone was smiling, except for me… and the kid with chamoy drenched fingers and face pleading with his mother for another round of tostilocos. “Andale ammmaaaaa” I heard him say.