Spring break took me back to my Downey home and back to Jovi and Olivia. It took me back to my orange living room with the Oaxacan tapestry adorning the wall and the Frida Kahlo portraits glazing the stairwell. It took me back to the cool of the Los Angeles County spring breeze, speeding down backstreets in my teal Nissan with the Tajín bottle in the glove compartment, busting up the speakers as I play my latest playlist at volume level 30, the way I don’t in my dorm.
My first night home, Jovi, Olivia and I sat at our favorite coffee shop, sipping on Spanish lattes. Our giggles were harmonious, matching each other’s in a beautifully nasally blend of sound, a pitch perfected over years of friendship. Surrounded by Dripp’s geometric tiles and the chirping voices of Fullerton locals, we caught up on months of conversation.
We talked about changing friend dynamics, how veganism sometimes excludes POC communities, “Pride and Prejudice” and Hispanic representation in Hollywood. We rejoiced in the ease of it all, as the hours swiftly flew by, a scarf on the wind. Our familiarity with one another made the conversation flow back and forth like a tide pulling in and out of a glistening shoreline.
Olivia lent me her copy of “The House on Mango Street” as Jovi and I stepped out of her Anaheim home where we’d spent the night. Back at home, I curled into my own bed and read under the multicolored quilt, orange and pink stripes and blue paisleys, colorful as papel picado, running across the silk thread.
In the glow of the mosaic lamp on my nightstand, I swallowed the stories of Louie and the Cadillac, the clouds and all their names and the high-heeled shoes. Stories of Mexican heritage filled the room, reminiscent of ones my nana told me of her own childhood and stories of growing older that anyone could connect with. They colored the walls like smoke lifting from a candle.
When we went to LA, we stopped at a taco shop for vampiros al pastor. Drenched in queso fresco and pico de gallo, we chomped on the crispy tortas as “Wonderwall” confusingly played over the restaurant’s speakers.
We continued driving down Los Feliz Boulevard with the windows rolled down, playing Cuco at full volume, singing along to the Spanglish lyrics and the R&B beats of “Lo Que Siento.” Olivia and I forced Jovi onto Angel’s Flight — the history of the trolley and the underwhelming climb to the top of the hill was unimpressive to her. We looped “Tyrant” by Kali Uchis as we wound down the driveway of the Griffith Observatory, the words “Well Mira, mira, míralo / Papi está rico, papi está guapo” floating on the lavender sunset, mingling with the soft stars lit over the skyline.
On the way to a Ravyn Lenae concert in Santa Ana the next night, Jovi and Olivia annoyingly sang “Glitter” in a purposefully off-key tune as I rolled my eyes. At the concert, we hooked arms and danced to “Free Room” under a halo of silky red light. We whooped as Ravyn’s voice sailed over the crowd, the high notes she hit almost whistles, as sweet as a bird.
The last sleepover of the break, we lay hungover off the taste of Ravyn Lenae’s voice and the circadian rhythm of the beats — piano, drums, snaps. As I started to stiffen to sleep, Olivia made Jovi try to ranchera. Her legs flailed around the room, sending us into unstoppable giggles until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.
Back in Downey, back with Jovi and Olivia — covering everything I eat in Tajín and getting so excited that the only words I can speak are Spanish — I am more Hispanic than I am in Berkeley. I embrace my culture and I search for it. Everything I did over the break felt like I was trying to get my fill of a culture and a heritage that is a part of me.
I am not afraid to be Mexican in Berkeley. I am always proud that half of my blood runs green, white and red. But I realized that I speak Spanglish, listen to artists like Kali Uchis and Cuco, and embrace my culture only when my environment — Oaxacan tapestries, Frida paintings, my Downey home — implores me to.
Jovi and Olivia inspire me to be who I am all the time. While Jovi explores Hispanic communities at her college through clubs, and Olivia spearheads a feminist club with other Hispanic women, I have to find my own way to explore my culture in my collegiate setting.
Because being Mexican doesn’t turn on and off depending on your environment, it’s not something you pick and choose. It’s just a matter of becoming comfortable with who you are, regardless of where you are.
Maisy Menzies writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on milestone moments experienced through art. Contact her at [email protected].