Feature photo by Lel4nd
On December 18th, 2007, my boyfriend of 5 years proposed to me. We hadn’t really talked about getting married prior to him asking, but my gut told me to say yes. After all, we were two peas in a sarcastic, practical joke-loving pod, and it was unlikely either of us would find anyone as competitive or stubborn as we both were (or anyone that would put it up with it.) And so, in the words of Beyonce, he put a ring on it, and off we embarked on our year-and-a-half long engagement.
He, a tall and sturdy redhead with a German lineage, and I, a short Mexican-American girl with untamed black curls characteristically have nothing in common. But, in terms of our upbringing and socio-economic backgrounds we are very similar. We share similar family structures, come from neighboring suburbs, and experienced the same familiar life events of most kids of our generation. Yet, for some reason, the “officialness” of our relationship all of a sudden had me worried. Now that I was wearing what amounted to a signed contract on my ring finger, I felt that our ethnic differences were glaringly obvious in a way they never were before. More than anything I was scared. Not scared of tying the knot, because I knew we made a great team, but of untying the other end of my rope, the end that was tied to my anchor: my family, my heritage: what made me, me.
Getting married meant moving out of my parents’ house. No more fresh pico de gallo always in the fridge. No more Los Tigres del Norte playing on the stereo when someone was cleaning. No more ordering fights and cheering on a boxer, that was sure to lose, just because he was Mexican. Would I ever eat posole again?
It meant losing my last name, tilde and all! All of my friends called me Nuñez. What would they call me after I got married? Melissa? They only called me that when they were mad at me. I could always keep my last name, but then would I have to go through life explaining to strangers “No, really, he’s my husband, we just have different last names because I liked mine too much to let it go.” I was going to become a Mangold, and to me it felt like part of me was going to have to change along with my name.
But as news of our engagement spread through our parents to our siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins we received nothing but warm wishes and a sense of excitement about the upcoming nuptials. His family is just as large as my big fat Mexican family (numerically… it’s not like we can’t lay off the tortillas), and to have that many people behind us gave me the assurance that we were doing the right thing. I mean, it’s not 1950s Mississippi. I wasn’t expecting anyone to be outraged that a white boy and a brown girl were getting married, but it calmed me to know that both of our families were excited to be gaining one more person.
That’s when I realized I wasn’t going to be losing what made me a Mexican-American. My upbringing wouldn’t just vaporize like it never existed. My family would still be there. I could still go to my grandma’s for fresh homemade tortillas. I could turn on La Ley if I really missed the corridos my parents turned on to clean to. If anything, he would be adding some of my culture to his life. And vice-versa, I would be gaining culture, not losing it. I would be hearing stories from his grandparents and parents of when they were growing up. I would be learning how to cook dishes he grew up eating. I would be learning some German phrases and even traveling to Germany after we got married. We would learn from one another, and each other’s families, things that were new to both of us.
A marriage isn’t about taking anything away from anyone. It’s about joining two lives together, creating a union between two childhoods, two sets of tradition, two families and making one beautifully unique hybrid of them all.