“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/.