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The Mexican-American Male at Age 17

My name is Emiliano. I’m 17 years old, and I’m a dual citizen of Mexico and the United States. I live in Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca, but I was born in Minnesota, where I lived until I moved to Mexico five years ago.

Back in the states, I lived in Maplewood, not a big city like St. Paul, or anything like that. There, I had everything around me: My bike, my friends and a strip mall with a Dairy Queen and cheap theater. It was really nice. There were lakes all around us, too, so we could go fishing and swimming a lot. I even swam in Lake Superior. I had a PlayStation 2, but other than that, I was mainly outside.

When my parents decided we were leaving America, I was mad. Especially because we certainly didn’t make the decision as a family. One day I got home, and my parents had put a for-sale sign up in the front lawn. That’s how I found out. But my dad wanted to come back to Mexico because he couldn’t take the winters.

Skating in Santa Cruz

I was in my first year of middle school at the time. It was an arts and science school. They gave you a choice between visual arts, theater and band. The only thing I didn’t like was about it was that it was year-round, with only a month off in the summer.

School in Mexico is like the military. You march. Every Monday you sing the anthem. You have to have your hair cut so they can see your ears. There’s a uniform as well — cream-colored pants and a white shirt and tie. They choose the colors; I don’t understand it! Uniforms suck. Plus, it’s a weird way of teaching. There’s a lot of shaming. If you get bad grades, they’ll read them out in front of the whole class and put them up on the wall. That sucks, too.

I’ve had pretty much the same friends since I got here. It’s boys and girls, mixed. I don’t have a girlfriend now, however. Some of my friends feel like they have to have a girlfriend, but I’ve never felt like that. I like to do my own thing. I did have girlfriends when I first got here, but now, no. Eventually, I want to get married and have kids, but I want to travel first. I’d want our kids to grow up in America and Mexico, if that’s possible. Because I’ve liked living in two places, and learning at least two languages.

The most important thing to me right now are my friends and getting out of school without having to repeat a year. I have better grades now than I did before. I decided to put in the work so I can get good grades. I’m good at math, but it’s at a pretty shitty level here. And math never changes in other languages so I was always good at it. Physics is hard. I hate physics! History is just a lot of dates you have to remember. Literature in Spanish sucks, there’s so many tildes. In the States, I loved literature. I loved reading in English. But now I have too many books I have to read in Spanish or I’ll fail.

My dad started tattooing when I was younger, but before that, he worked at Cinnabon, Taco Bell and a grill place in the city, which he liked the most because he felt like he was really cooking stuff. But he wanted to get into tattoos so he got into a shop in Minneapolis called Get To The Point. I remember being there a lot. I’d always draw with my dad and go see him at the shop. That’s what I want to do, too — tattoo.

I sometimes help my dad out in the shop now. I’m learning to sterilize tubes and clean and about the all the risks they have. I want to be his apprentice. First, though, I have to get my grades up.

I haven’t started applying for colleges yet, because I need go see everything. But I’m thinking I want to go to the University of California, Santa Cruz. I went to Santa Cruz last year to work, and I just loved it. I surfed a couple of times because it has really good waves, and I skated a lot because it has really nice skate parks. In Puerto Escondido, I skate at the Municipal Palace, even though the police don’t like it. I do it everyday. I come home from school, do my homework and skate until around 8:30 at night.

A few months ago, I also got a motorcycle that’s semi-automatic. I was going to buy it myself; I even had my money saved up. But my dad decided he was going to buy it for me. I do have to pay for gas. I’ve learned how to tighten the chain, clean it, tighten the brakes and everything.

Emiliano’s buddies in Puerto

I’m planning on taking a year off before college because it’s going to be a lot of money to go to California. I got to work, save up money and then go. I know I’ll have to take out loans, but I don’t want to take out so many that I’m gonna be paying them off until I’m 40. My mom would probably help if I really needed money, but she told me she’s not paying for my college. Her parents didn’t pay for her college, so she said I can learn to do things myself, too.

When I first got to Mexico, I didn’t speak a lot of Spanish. I stopped speaking Spanish, mostly, when I went to school in the U.S. There was no one else really to talk to. I spoke it with my dad, but I didn’t really speak as much as understand it. (My mom is American.) But then I came here, and everything was in my face. The first year I didn’t talk. Only when I had to. At school, they didn’t teach me Spanish either; they just put me next to a kid, and I copied him throughout the whole year.

At the beginning, I went to private school. But I didn’t like it. I felt like a douche being in private school. There, possessions mean more than anything else. They didn’t believe that I didn’t have a TV, or that we didn’t have our own house. I lived all over Puerto before this house we’re in was finally built. The kids at school thought I was lying and that I had a bunch of money.

The second year I changed schools. I made good friends after that. My best friend is from France, which meant he didn’t speak Spanish that well either. So if he’d say a word that was wrong, I didn’t always know that it was wrong. We still have some words that we say that are completely, completely wrong. It’s like we have our own language. It means nothing, haha.

I still have my friends in Minnesota as well: Michael and James. Michael is a real tall kid; James is Vietnamese. I went to primary and kindergarten with them. When I went to the States not that long ago, I stayed with Michael. You leave for a long time, but when you’re back, people are really happy, you know? It never feels weird. When I’m not there, we use Messenger, and sometimes FaceTime, to talk.

Emiliano with his younger brother

I’m close to my little brother, but he’s three years younger than me and has a lot of different interests. He likes anime, movies, his iPad and videogames. I don’t like games that much. I kind of like Call of Duty and Halo, but some of the games he plays have so many buttons and so many different things you have to do. You have to like, make a spear and cut down a tree before you even start. I’m just like, “No, I don’t have time for this. It’s way too long; I can’t do it.”

On weekends I usually go out if there’s a festival or something like that. Zicatela Beach has all the bars and stuff. You can get anything you want; they don’t really care. I don’t do much drinking, but some people get drunk as hell. We even have school events at bars. It blows my mind. The first time I went to a bar that was a school event, I was 14 or 15; it was a different school’s event. So I show up and it was a legit bar, a disco and the kids from school were drinking.

Alcohol is a really big thing here, which can be a good and bad thing. You just have to know when to stop. Other than that, though, people just drink a lot. A lot of people will drink two or three beers in a day, every day. That seems fine to me. I think the problem is when you go out every night and get shitfaced.

Weed is also a big thing here. I smoke a little with my friends sometimes. I don’t usually smoke when I draw, but I do have a lot of marijuana references in my drawings. I can’t, however, draw without music. I like rap, everything except mambo rap. I usually listen to YouTube on my phone. People have Spotify, but they have to pay for it so I’d rather listen on YouTube. They have playlists and whole albums on there too, so it’s cool.

Mostly what I spend money on is gas for my bike. You can’t buy a lot of stuff like clothes here anyway. It’s more like wait until Christmas and hope someone gives you something cool, haha.

I’m not stupid either. Some kids walk around at night with just whatever they have showing. I don’t do that. I put my money in my socks, turn off my phone and put my earbuds down my shirt. I’m coming home sometimes at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. — a school event gets done at around 1 a.m. and then people go out and drink until 2 or 3.

Here you stay out late, but you don’t fuck around with your parents because they’ll kick your ass. Overall in the States, though, you can’t do as much — there’s a law against everything. Like jaywalking! It’s so stupid. It pisses me off that you’ll get a ticket for that. I thought I was going to get a ticket for jaywalking in Santa Cruz once. I was paid by my boss in cash, so I had two weeks of cash in my pocket. I thought they were going to ask me how I got it. But the cop ended up not saying anything, he just shined the torch on me. I looked away, and I guess he decided to keep going.

Drawing from Emiliano’s sketchbook

That’s why when my American friends come to visit me, it’s funny as hell. They look around like, “What the hell is going here?” Because you can do whatever you want. I can like, get a hotel room or whatever; I don’t need a guardian or anything like that.

For example, I went to the mountains on the way to Oaxaca City with three of my friends. We just bought our own bus tickets and went. But we got scared when we got there and realized, Holy shit there’s no one there, just a restaurant that’s closed. We were there like an hour, sitting, just talking, when a dude came along and gave us a lift back down to one of the towns outside of the mountains. The next day we went to San Jose del Pacifico, which is famous because it’s where the Beatles went and did mushrooms and stuff. We got to see that and drink the hot chocolate — it’s known for that too.

Parents here are generally way more chill about this stuff. Not my mom, though. She’s strict to a certain point. She doesn’t like a lot of dumbass kids running around her house. Other moms they don’t care. So we’ll hang out at my friend’s house rather than bring it back here. There’ll be like 20 kids in their house, and they don’t mind. But we clean up, so we’re not dirty or anything.

If I had to choose, I’d want my kid to grow up like that. With freedom, I mean. If he wanted to get shitfaced every day, he probably could, and that would suck, but it’s freer here. You learn other things. You learn how to talk to people. You learn how to save your money. You learn to see if people are trying to play you. In the States sometimes, you feel, I don’t know, like, pampered, like in cotton wool. Kids there don’t like cooking and cleaning and being on their own like that. I feel like when they leave home it’s going to suck for them.

— As told to Elmo Keep