Writing my own story

Alien on Campus

The first story I wrote as a kid was titled “The Magic Snowman,” even though I’d never seen a snowman in real life. I grew up in Mexico, but the stories I wrote all took place in the United States. They had snowy winters and families who ate meatloaf for dinner, and they were all written in English.

I felt like I couldn’t write about the things I saw around me — about life in Mexico. I didn’t think Mexicans could even have stories written about them, since all the stories I read were about Americans.

As a child, the TV shows I watched were “Drake & Josh,” “The Magic School Bus” and “Hannah Montana.” I read about Junie B. Jones, Ramona Quimby and Nancy Drew. I lived in Mexico, but a large part of what I saw and heard came from American voices.

I was surrounded by stories that weren’t mine, and because of this, I began to think that my experience of the world was less real and less legitimate. I ate nopales and had posadas and piñatas — but that was not what the stories I watched and read said the world was like.

Maybe my dream of living in the United States was guided by this feeling of illegitimacy, as if living in the United States would finally allow me to write about myself. My story would finally be worthy of being told.

As I grew older, I discovered that narratives about other countries do exist. In high school, I fell in love with Latin American literature. I admired the ingenuity of Gabriel García Márquez’s magical realism. I connected with Rosario Castellanos’ essays about being a woman in Mexico.

Still, these stories were few and far between. I craved more narratives about people whose winters were not full of snow — the stories of people in my own country and in different parts of the world.

The United States prevails in the media at a worldwide scale. Its voice is louder and more prevalent than any other country’s voice. When I came to UC Berkeley, what surprised me the most was how well I could blend in with Americans — how much I could talk about their celebrities, their songs and their politics.

I’m glad that my transition to life in the United States was not too rough — that I wasn’t alienated in this new society and could connect with people over American pop culture. But it’s a problem when American narratives are the only ones that are given importance or recognition.

When I was 13, I went to a summer camp in Michigan. One night, we had a Mexican-themed dinner party, and the staff put up what they thought was the Mexican flag but was really the Italian flag. I pointed this out to one of the staff members, and, to this day, I still remember his exact words: “That’s debatable.”

I couldn’t believe that someone could say that the accuracy of another country’s flag was debatable. This type of American arrogance towards people from other countries is more common than you’d think.

There have been countless times when I have said I didn’t know this or that about the United States, only to be looked at as if I lacked basic common sense.

“How do you not know who Steve Bannon is?” a friend incredulously asked me when I gave them a questioning look. This angered me, especially because minutes later, he said he didn’t know the name of Mexico’s president.

The truth is that many Americans don’t know any other story but their own — they’re not expected to. To a certain extent, we’re all ignorant of the stories that exist outside of the mainstream media, be it in Mexico or any other country. We are all disproportionately cognizant of the American perspective, and this has been a problem for years.

The bottom line is that the stories we tell are important. They help us understand and respect one another. They make us see that we are not the only type of people that exist — that there are different ways of living and modes of thought. We need more movies like “Coco,” which portrays life in Mexico. We need to open ourselves to stories told by people from opposite sides of the world.

I’m as much a part of the story of the world as anyone else. So now, I’m beginning to write myself into it.

Alejandra Márquez writes the Wednesday blog on her experience as an international student. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ale_marquez20.