Given the enormous influence of the United States in the world and the flood of information that it produces, Independence Day and its festivities are well known worldwide. The date isn’t celebrated beyond U.S. borders, however, as are holidays like Halloween and Christmas, which most of the western world tries to replicate.
Clearly, July Fourth is a patriotic date. As such, it is difficult to replicate in another country. Here in the U.S. we do celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Saint Patrick’s Day and even Day of the Dead, to name a few foreign patriotic holidays. The explanation for this lies not only in the number of immigrants from other countries—Mexico and Ireland in those cases—but in an American predisposition to include as our own celebrations that are foreign in essence.
In Mexico, because of the special geographical and historical connection to the United States, there has developed a sort of love-hate relationship with the richest country in the world. The Mexican middle and upper classes wish to be and appear to be American in their tastes, customs and even ideas. Many speak English fluently and travel as much as they can to the American cities they consider important, where they buy merchandise and property, study and deposit their wealth in banks.
These privileged few, no more than 5 percent of the Mexican population, are also staunch patriots during Mexican celebrations, especially when they are abroad. This is visible when they’re watching the Mexican national soccer team play in an American stadium. They are quick to criticize their country, however, just as they criticize the one they so admire and love to travel in. They would never celebrate July Fourth in Mexico, although they may have American-style grills in their enormous houses and barbecue in the best American style, something unknown to the majority of their countrymen.
But what would these and other Mexicans say if they saw someone like Cecilia and her four children, who previously lived in Arizona but have returned to their hometown of Zacatecas, who, on July Fourth, follow the custom of making sausages and hamburgers adorned with little stars-and-stripes flags on a grill very much like the one they had in Arizona? Thousands of other repatriated Mexicans live a mixture of Mexican and American customs, very different from the majority of their compatriots who view them with suspicion and surprise.
This social phenomenon began about 10 years ago and is on the rise as more immigrants and their families return to their home countries. Although there have always been returnees for one reason or another, the present noticeable increase was triggered by multiple factors: Hurricane Katrina and the internal migration it provoked, the passage of anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, the economic recession and mortgage crisis and resultant loss of property and jobs, the excessive deportations during the Obama administration, the failure of Congress to enact meaningful immigration reform and the general wave of anti-immigrant sentiment now being reinforced by Donald Trump.
For the first time in modern history, the number of immigrants returning home to Mexico is almost equal to the number coming to the U.S. The experts put the figure at more than 500,000 a year. Given the number of Mexican repatriates and the fact that the country cannot provide the same job opportunities, salaries and services that they have grown accustomed to, the situation does not look promising for the majority of them.
Facing the biggest problems are the children of the immigrants in this forced back and forth. Children and young people who grew up in the U.S. have spent little or no time in their parents’ country and and now must try to adapt. They suffer from a lack of knowledge of the culture and customs prevailing in Mexico—the informality of daily life, the lack of rules, little or no respect for the law—as well as from an inability to speak Spanish well or at all. Because of the latter, they suffer the same academic problems in Mexico as many did in the U.S. As a result, they face ridicule and abuse by their fellow students and even their teachers, as well as from neighbors, family members and friends.
Beyond this, these children suffer from a lack of identity and the psychological trauma that entails. While their parents held on to their “Mexican-ness” in a reality that often made them feel separate and rejected, these young people felt neither entirely Mexican nor American. Now, in Mexico, they face the same crisis, but in reverse. They celebrated Cinco de Mayo in their American schools, yet they don’t understand it in their home towns.
Cecilia, the Mexican repatriate, celebrated the Fourth of July in Zacatecas mainly because her children pushed it. She invited her neighbors, who happily ate what she offered, although they felt strange and removed from the festivities, especially when Cecilia’s oldest child, Alicia, began to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and wave the American flag.
Victor Reyes is a translator, teacher and native of Puebla, Mexico.