On Shape-Shifting, and Turning American
“They had first thought the bird was a male—the female quetzals did not have tails as long as a cat’s—but then they saw the blue feathers mixed in with the green, and the gray-brown of the undersides of her wings, and they feared her all the more… Others said that sometimes at night they saw a copper-skinned woman darting naked between the trees, her hair fanning out behind her like a single dark wing.”
¡Feliz Día de la Independencia! Though I’m always proud to be an American, today is a day I’m especially thankful for the country I call home, and for the brave men and woman who risk, and often sacrifice their lives for it.
Thinking about my story for She-Shifters makes me even more grateful to live in the United States, because it reminds me of how this country has both shaped my identify and left it alone. In “Verde,” a quetzal transforms into a young woman, but keeps a few unmistakable markings of the green bird she once was. It’s not news that writers end up leaving a little bit of themselves in their work, but I didn’t realize until recently how much my identity as a Latina helps me relate to the idea of shape-shifting.
The quetzal, a sacred bird in Mesoamerican tradition, leaves its mark on the woman in “Verde,” even after she has turned. By keeping some of the color she possessed as a quetzal, the woman holds on to the spirit of this bird that exists as both a real and mythical creature. She becomes human, but keeps the quetzal’s wildness and palette. She is both woman and quetzal, in the same way my family and I are both American and Mexican. We come to this country, and we “turn” American, a little more with every generation, but at our centers, a piece of where we come from still lives in us, indelible as the quetzal’s green and red. I love my country because it lets me be both.
America, of course, is not without its prejudices, its preconceptions, and its fear of the other. As strong in numbers as we are, the Latino community is still one of the most marginalized populations in this country. But I have hope that we can change that without losing the culture we carry with us across borders. Here, I am not only Mexican or American, but Mexican-American. I am Latina, even though my last name, much like my pseudonym, sounds more American than Mexican. And I am American, even though I grew up thinking every girl’s mother told her not to wear blouses that show her chiches too much. To me, a piñata de estrella is as much a part of a birthday party as candles, but so is a sheet cake from the Albertsons down the street, the frosted roses too bright pink to be real.
Mexico may be the land of my heart, but the United States is my country, and my family’s country. We have become American, though, at our cores, we still bear the mark our homeland has left on us. It shows, sometimes as clearly as an accent or a few Spanish words slipping into a conversation, and other times, as quietly as a streak of green when the sun hits our hair the right way.
Whether or not today is your country’s Día de la Independencia, it’s worth asking: what identities do you carry with you? How have they been shaped by the country you come from and the country you live in? What places do you take with you wherever you go?
Wishing you all a very Happy Fourth of July, and a beautiful early summer or winter.
Anna Meadows is a part-time executive assistant, part-time housewife. Find out more at http://meadowstories.blogspot.com/.
3 thoughts on “On Shape-Shifting, and Turning American”
A thought-provoking post. I lived in Germany for the best part of a year when I was 18/19 – a loooong time ago now – but I still bear the influence of that time. I drink peppermint tea, much prefer Kaffee und Kuchen to tea and scones when I’m in the mood for an afternoon indulgence, and tend to think in snippets of German when I’m stressed.
Happy 4th July! 🙂
Even though I was born in America my family has been working on our family tree and so looking at where we have come from. We are a very mixed nationalities: Germany, England, Scotland, Irish, Scotch-Irish, Cherokee Indian. I was in the USA army for ten years to serve my country which I’m very proud of. Even though I don’t have the same rights as most of my other Americans. I’m lesbian so I am denied certain rights and if the army had known I was a lesbian would have kicked me out. So I see that in my family background my family has been prosecuted in the native Americans and even the Scotch running to Ireland and finally to America and even the others ended up here. All of this has made me a proud American.
Cool post, Anna, and very appropriate for the day. The Fourth is a great time to not only celebrate our country, but also our countries of origin.
One of my favorite ways to pay homage to the different cultures in my mutt-like family tree is through music. Playing Celtic, gypsy, and good-ol’ American fiddle lets the music of my ancestors resonate through me 🙂
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