I live in different worlds, and my sense of identity can clash with my Latino roots. Living overseas has opened my eyes to fresh stories that cast light on my own sense of self.
By Yesenia Mozo
I live in a couple of different worlds.
One is within me — a queer person of color, born of immigrant parents, fighting for an education despite strapped family finances.
This world often collides with others, particularly with my world at home.
My home world is amazing, with the smell of arroz con pollo in my family’s cramped but comfortable house, with the sound of the church bell and music on Bergenline Avenue and the stories every immigrant holds in my town, the ones that connect my madrinas, padrinos and tios.
My community has an abundance of love, which they needed on election night in the United States, when Donald Trump’s plan to deport all immigrants from America started to loom large.
But as I stepped into a new world in France, where I’m on a study abroad program, I realized my home world is both heaven and hell for my personal world.
Sex defines women — she’s either respetable or indecente.
My mother’s arroz con pollo, the Spanish music on Bergenline Avenue, the Spanish mass that goes on every Sunday and the love my family has for one another are reserved for people like them: religious and in touch with their Latino heritage.
One night, I telephoned my mother to discuss Trump’s election and his plans for immigration reform, birth control and gay rights. When I said I would educate my daughter about birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancy, with disgust she said, “Que tontería. What nonsense. Just tell her not to have sex.”
Most of our Latino community objects to birth control; it’s an excuse for teenage girls to have sex without facing consequences. Sex defines women — she’s either respetable or indecente.
My mother, already exasperated with me, became even more so when I said, “Gay people don’t have to worry about unwanted pregnancies.” Silence, then her favorite phrase rolled off her tongue, “Yesenia, que tonteria.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “Gay people also wait until marriage to have sex.”
My mother screamed at me, in Spanish, my first language, the language that sparked love, anger and sadness throughout my childhood. She told me that if I wanted to talk such tonteria — nonsense — to never call again. So I hung up the phone.
Crying irritated my eyes that night, and my heart was sore. I was unable to sleep. I realized two of my worlds were colliding.
My parents’ refusal to accept my identity has echoes in Trump’s campaign. If Trump were not so persistent in promoting his immigration reform policy, my parents could be strong supporters of the President-elect’s ideology. This realization has me torn between supporting them and leaving them, between hate and love.
Finding a new world away from home
Unexpectedly, France has offered new stories, something refreshing to take in.
One night around 11 p.m. in the kitchen, I tell my host mother about my problem, and she brings up Denis, a longtime friend. Denis called her one day to ask her to come by his house because he was ill. She drove down to Denis’s and barged into his room, swinging the door open to find him hiding behind it, thin and delicate.
Denis, sweating and worried, explained how he had AIDS because he was gay. My host mother looked at him with disbelief. Slurring his words, Denis explained how he had not told her earlier because he was scared he would lose her.
With a smack of her lips, my host mother brushed aside his worries, exclaiming, “Bah, non.”
Later that year, Denis’ sister asked my host mother to stay away from Denis because she didn’t want anybody to know that her brother needed help due to the “gay plague.”
With a twinkle of wisdom and painful memories in her eyes, my host mother told me that she had continued helping Denis, who died peacefully in his hospital bed beside the window facing his favorite view, the sea.
Yesenia Mozo lives in West New York, New Jersey and attends the Concord Academy high school in Massachusetts. She is spending her penultimate year studying in Rennes, France, with the School Year Abroad program, tackling her third language. Her interests include social justice, photography, writing, travel and comedy.